Specially-trained guides are now available to offer one-of-a-kind tours of the Vatican Museums to the deaf and blind.
The museums' staff announced the new service at a March 1 press conference. Initially, they will be offered for Italian speakers and signers.
In the tour for the blind and visually impaired, visitors are able to touch copies of two of “the 30 most important works” in the Pinacoteca – the Vatican museum that houses an extensive collection of paintings.
They are guided in groups of eight to examine a replica of Caravaggio's “Deposition from the Cross.” The work depicts Christ being taken down from the cross to be laid in the tomb.
The experience of discovering the painting's content and texture through the hands-on examination of a special three-dimensional bas relief replica is accompanied by Scripture and poetry readings that explain the moment, as well as sacred music inspired by the depicted event.
Tourists are also guided through second work in fresco from an artist named Melozzo da Forlì. It depicts an angel playing a stringed instrument. Both this piece and the copy of the “Deposition,” created in the same way as the original, are available to be touched.
The raised design works of art are also available to the visitor in a pamphlet that is available in both Braille and dark print.
In addition, for Caravaggio's work, the guide enhances the tour by offering visitors the chance to smell aloe and myrrh, which were used 2,000 years ago to prepare bodies for burial.
According to a statement from the Vatican Museums, the expierence will evoke the images represented in the paintings, “promoting the passage from simple knowledge to the more profound perception of the work in an integral appreciation.”
The director of the new program, Maria Serlupi Crescenzi, told Vatican Radio that the tour “is a sum of stimuli that permits entering in contact with the work, deepening both the cognitive and, of course, the emotional sphere.”
For the deaf, seven specialists in Italian sign language offer tours two days a week. L'Osservatore Romano called the new offering “without precedent or equal, at least in Italy.”
The new tours, offered only in Italian for now, are free for those visitors who reserve a place in the limited-sized groups.