> OUR PROJECTS > Students Learn Why It Is Important for the Blind to See Art in the Vatican Museums



December 2016
article by Amy Gallant Sullivan, Dr. David A. Sullivan - essays by Patrick Harris & Angelina Kemmett - translations by Ludovica Mazzitelli


Thinking back to your formative years, do you recall one moment that shaped you and your perspective, a turning point, which was the catalyst of your growth from child to adult? How would you inspire and motivate young people to reach beyond themselves for knowledge and experience?


“I am truly blessed to go to Matignon High School, where such an 'experience' is possible.”


So said Angelina Kemmett, a sophomore at Matignon High School, who with Junior Patrick Harris, recently had a private guided tour through the Vatican Museums with a special focus on the multi-sensory exhibit for the visually impaired. Both students won an essay contest at Matignon, an independent and co-educational Catholic High School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, addressing the question, “Why is it important for the visually impaired to “see” the art in the Vatican Museums?” Eight judges from around the world selected the two winners, with the award a trip with two chaperones to the Vatican Museums.


The idea for this contest originated with Dr. David A. Sullivan of Harvard Medical School and Schepens Eye Research Institute, who is a Matignon alumnus and a member of the Italian & International Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums. The goals were to enrich the lives of students and help the Patrons develop relationships with Catholic Schools. The Italian & International Patrons, explained co-Founder Amy Gallant Sullivan, “are dedicated to the preservation and the perpetuation of arts, antiquities and sculptures in the Vatican Museums with a special focus on making art accessible to all, even those with disabilities (e.g. blindness) who otherwise would not be able to participate.


“This trip was life-altering,” said Harris, “and I learned about how all people can “see” the awe-inspiring artwork in the Vatican Museums.” One of the chaperones, Susan Lenn Johnson, a Matignon theology teacher and campus Minister, stated, “I had never before considered the importance of accessibility of artwork for the visually impaired.  I feel like this opened a whole new way for me to think of both artwork and our abilities. I can already recognize myself looking at accessibility to many things in our city differently too.”


“This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” said Christopher Martin, the other chaperone and Chief Advancement Officer at Matignon. And most importantly, said Sullivan, this initiative addressed the missions of both Matignon and the Italian & International Patrons: Matignon is committed to promoting academic excellence and student growth; and the International Patrons are dedicated to bringing together all individuals who have an appreciation for art, history and restoration.


Ms. Kemmett concluded, “Rome and Vatican City were absolutely amazing… but the most important part of the trip was that it brought me closer to my faith and taught me that my view of the world is not the only view there is.  Art is sensational.  It saves lives, and everyone should have the chance to experience it.”


Read the students’ winning essays and presentations:


> Presentation by Patrick Harris - Junior at Matignon


> Patrick's winning essay


> Presentation by Angelina Kemmett - Sophomore at Matignon


I never thought that I would be going to Rome at age sixteen. When this opportunity was presented to Matignon by Dr. and Ms. Sullivan, I thought it must be too good to be true, but a couple months after I wrote my essay, Patrick and I got the news that we were the winners.  A few months after that, I was on my first ever plane ride, and that plane was taking me to Italy. I could not be more grateful to everyone involved in making this trip a reality. 


I was awestricken by the beauty of Rome.  In particular, the view from the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is something that will stay with me always.  Everything seemed smaller from up there, and I felt a sense of peace and joy that remains, to me, unmatched.  Another remarkable moment of our time in Vatican City was our private tour of the Museums, on which we were permitted into the Sistine Chapel before the crowds flooded in.  To have been able to stand, even for a short time, in the stories of Catholicism that I have grown up with made me feel more connected to the religion I have always known, and to have been granted the possibility of doing so without the bustle of people, a chance that not many get, is something I am very grateful for.  I feel that I use the word “beautiful” too much, but it is impossible to describe the art and the feeling I got from being in such a holy place.  It struck me, though, as I looked down at St. Peter’s Square and up at the ceiling of the Chapel, that not everyone sees in the same way that I do.


At the Vatican Museums, we had the opportunity to experience some exhibits specially designed by and with the International Patrons to cater to visually impaired people.  My favorite of these pieces was a three-dimensional model of Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ.  Looking at the painting it accompanied, I got the message of Jesus being put into the tomb, but in feeling the model I saw things with my hands that I did not see with my eyes.  I felt the veins of Jesus’s hands and the wounds in his sides, and the picture became clearer to me than it was when I looked at it.  The model had been remade several times to fully represent the painting, and the effort put into it truly shows how visually impaired people see, as well as how much the Patrons care about art accessibility. The amazing thing about the work the Patrons are doing is that the visually impaired exhibits are a large step forward in making art more accessible, not just to those who are visually impaired, but to people of all abilities.   


Rome and Vatican City were absolutely amazing.  The people there with me, the food, and the ancient buildings are things I will always remember and appreciate--but the most important part of the trip was that it brought me closer to my faith and taught me that my view of the world is not the only view there is.  Art is sensational.  It saves lives, and everyone should have the chance to experience it.


> Angelina's winning essay



Matignon Visit to the Vatican Museums






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Italian Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums
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Vatican Museum Masterpieces unveiled for the Blind



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