Consumed by Curiosity

Who never had the urge to touch a masterpiece of ancient statuary? And for this as many times we accepted the risk of being ‘caught in the act’ by the guardians of an art gallery in order to reach one of our favorite masterpieces.
Rarely we are able to dominate this desire.
Walking through the museums and collections of ancient art is very frequent to see statues that show areas of very smooth, shiny, worn, or even dirty due to the continued action of the hands.
Consumed by curiosity of thousands of people over the decades.
Also for this reason the most admirable masterpieces are kept at distance, suitably preserved by this phenomenon.
But why we want to touch the works of art?
The reasons are many and different.
The bronze statue of Saint Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio in St. Peter’s Basilica shows the feet totally worn out because touching it means to receive the blessing. In this case the reason of the contact is purely due to the ritual, like a religious goal, for centuries by thousands of pilgrims every year.

Some sculptures suggest a contact just for fun inspiring to take a selfie like the Molossian dogs in the Octagonal Courtyard of the Vatican Museums or the Wild Boar bronze in Florence seem ‘asking’ the tourist for a photo-souvenir that becomes a ‘must’ required. Exactly like the modern Centurions under the Colosseum or Mikey Mouse in a Disney Park.

Thinking back to the famous representation of Michelangelo Buonarroti, almost totally blind, ‘touching’ ​​the Belvedere Torso to ‘better see’ the forms, we can say that the substantive reasons for this action are hidden in a deeper and more intimate knowledge of the ancient masterpiece. It is a noble reason to touch, a personal, intimate and profound ‘need’, very similar to the sense of the hug between two persons. Like touching something to make real the relationship between the two parts.

Essentially the same way that the blinds can learn the art of statuary touching plaster casts (in many museums there are small gipsoteche or cast galleries dedicated to blinds) or guided tours where is allowed to touch the originals.
But I want to talk about other needs to touch the statues, those that arise from a personal instinct.
Especially the artists and artisans who need to touch the surfaces ‘to know’ them more deeply because, as they say, “the eye can misleads” and so you need to get more information to better understand.
The common visitor or distracted tourist are instead caught by an authentic curiosity, a pure  and unconscious instinct on touching the work. Perhaps to confirm that reality is better; to understand what it is made or to say to themself: I have not only seen it, I also touched it. I make it,  it really exists!
Often the material suggests to touch or moves us away from it, the shapes or colors of polished marble invite us to check more with feel the texture and beauty of some areas such as the beautiful pools or polished granite porphyry like sarcophagi of Constance and Saint Helena in the Vatican Museums. Probably no one would get pleasure in touching a sculpture by Richard Serra made ​​of rusty iron very hot under the sun. Our instinct does not ask this.
On the contrary, everyone is attracted and dominated by the desire to touch the velvety Antonio Canova’s marble or touch the swollen flesh of Proserpina by GianLorenzo Bernini at Galleria Borghese, or drape of the veiled Christ of Giuseppe Sammartino in Naples. Imagine that you can reach the unapproachable Michelangelo’s  Pietà for a special visit, and once you’ll be just next to it, would you touch it? Would you do it even if it is prohibited?

But the true reason is that in the exact moment we are contemplating the work of art we become part of its own dimension. The act of touching it represents exactly the edge beyond which everything returns to a real and objective state. By touching the statue we bring it to our dimension, a more humane measure.
It’s not exactly like asking the rockstar for an autograph, or to touch the balls of Wall Street’s Bull in New York. It’s not about bringing home a souvenir like a relic. Touching the work of art is an unconscious, instinctive need, those who perceives it want to discover, want to know more.