03 December, 2009

Early art ... La Grotte de Lascaux


Lascaux Painting
Compliments - wikimedia.org


Ever wondered what inspired the early cave dwellers to produce the art on the wall of the caves?? I have. Though I did not receive the answer to this question, my curiosity led me to the famous Grotte de Lascaux.

Lascaux cave located in southwestern France is famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac. They contain some of the best-known Paleolithic art estimated to be 16,000 years old which primarily consist of realistic images of large animals, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at the time. In 1979, Lascaux was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.
The cave was discovered on September 12, 1940 by four teenagers. In a few years, the carbon dioxide produced by 1,200 visitors per day had visibly damaged the paintings and led to the temporary closure of the cave. After the cave was closed, the paintings were restored to their original state, and were monitored on a daily basis. Rooms in the cave include The Great Hall of the Bulls, the Lateral Passage, the Shaft of the Dead Man, the Chamber of Engravings, the Painted Gallery, and the Chamber of Felines.
The cave contains nearly 2,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories -animals, human figures and abstract signs. Notably, the paintings contain no images of the surrounding landscape or the vegetation of the time. Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using mineral pigments, although some designs have also been incised into the stone. Many images are too faint to discern, while others have deteriorated.
Over 900 can be identified as animals, and 605 of these have been precisely identified. There are also many geometric figures. Of the animals, equines predominate, with 364 images. There are 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle and bison, each representing 4-5% of the images. A smattering of other images include seven felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. Among the most famous images are four huge, black bulls or aurochs in the Hall of the Bulls. There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists.
The most famous section of the cave is The Great Hall of the Bulls where bulls, equines and stags are depicted. But it is the four black bulls that are the dominant figures among the 36 animals represented here. One of the bulls is 17 feet long - the largest animal discovered so far in cave art. Additionally, the bulls appear to be in motion.

Lascaux Painting
Compliments - wikimedia.org




A painting referred to as "The Crossed Bison" and found in the chamber called the Nave is often held as an example of the skill of the Paleolithic cave painters. The crossed hind legs show the ability to use perspective in a manner that wasn't seen again until the 15th century.
In recent years new research has suggested that the Lascaux paintings may incorporate prehistoric star charts. Dr Michael Rappenglueck of the University of Munich argues that some of the non-figurative dot clusters and dots within some of the figurative images correlate with the constellations of Taurus, The Pleiades and the grouping known as the "Summer Triangle". Based on her own study of the astronomical significance of Bronze Age petroglyphs in the Vallée des Merveilles and her extensive survey of other prehistoric cave painting sites in the region — most of which appear to have been specifically selected because the interiors are illuminated by the setting sun on the day of the winter solstice - French researcher Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez has further proposed that the gallery of figurative images in the Great Hall represents an extensive star map and that key points on major figures in the group correspond to stars in the main constellations as they appeared in the Paleolithic.
An alternative hypothesis proposed by David Lewis-Williams following work with similar art of the San people of Southern Africa is that this type of art is spiritual in nature relating to visions experienced during ritualistic trance-dancing. These trance visions are a function of the human brain and so are independent of geographical location. Nigel Spivey, a professor of classic art and archeology at the University of Cambridge, has further postulated in his series, How Art Made the World, that dot and lattice patterns overlapping the representational images of animals are very similar to hallucinations provoked by sensory-deprivation. He further postulates that the connections between culturally important animals and these hallucinations led to the invention of image-making, or the art of drawing. Further extrapolations include the later transference of image-making behavior from the cave to megalithic sites, and the subsequent invention of agriculture to feed the site builders.
Since the year 1998 the cave has been beset with a fungus, variously blamed on a new air conditioning system that was installed in the caves, the use of high-powered lights, and the presence of too many visitors. As of 2008, the cave contained black mold which scientists were and still are trying to keep away from the paintings. In January 2008, authorities closed the cave for three months even to scientists and preservationists. A single individual was allowed to enter the cave for 20 minutes once a week to monitor climatic conditions. Now only a few scientific experts are allowed to work inside the cave and just for a few days a month but the methods of removing this fungi has taken its toll and left dark patches where it happened ruining the pigmentation. Compliments - wikipedia.org



I also want to share this link that I found with you all. It is a virtual walk through the famous La Grotte de Lascaux. Hope you enjoy!

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8 comments:

  1. Great post and a very interesting subject matter. It's amazing the vast knowledge the "cavemen" had. It just keeps unfolding as times go by. As for the abstract signs in the caves, it may well be Literature...the hieroglyphics just waiting to be deciphered :-D. This is worth researching.

    Keep up the great work.
    Cheers!

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  2. Thanks for the link, I'm going to share it with my art students tomorrow!

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  3. Thanks for the link! I wish I could see the "real" thing, but the link's probably as close as I'll ever get (not to mention that it's more ecologically friendly.)

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  4. This is on my list of things I want to see before I die. I've also seen reproductions of similar work done in Africa, looks so cool.

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  5. These are beautiful paintings, Thanks for brief historical information about the art paintings.

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  6. Our ancestors are an artist. They are very creative to have thought of craving/painting their art on the wall caves.

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  7. I read a book "The Cave Painters" by Gregory Curtis. Fascinating. I've seen the 3-D link you've posted. Wonderful and inspiring.

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  8. Lascaux is a must visit for Paleolithic cave paintings. The basic designs consist of huge animals. You can see around 2000 figures in this cave. The figures are divided into animals, human beings and abstract things. The Great Hall of the Bulls is very famous. The painting of four huge bulls is amaizng. The best time to visit this caves is between July and August. For more details refer caves of lascaux tourist guide

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