Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Lascaux Paintings

Picture if you will, the South-central part of France, September, 1940, four teenaged boys running, playing ball, a sunny day, their dog chasing after them, trying to be a part of their noisy game. The landscape is green, the late summer sun brings the morning a sense of warmth, drying the dewy dampness of the grassy, rolling hills. A scene from a Monet landscape perhaps?  No, but these boys and their dog are about to make art history. One boy throws the ball to the other. The throw is wild.  The second boy misses it. The ball rolls along the ground and into a small hole, no more than a foot in diameter. Their dog chases the ball into the hole and disappears. The boys converge on the hole, hearing their dog barking from within. Frantically, they dig with their hands, widening the hole, opening it up until they can just barely squeeze their slender, adolescent bodies inside. It is dark, but even with no more illumination than that coming from their hand-crafted entrance, they realize they have not stumbled upon just another long-forgotten limestone cave for which the area near Lascaux, France, had long been known.    

Lascaux cave art, 15,000-2,0000 BC, Cro Magnon
Kneeling in wonder with their dog, they gaze up in awe at the incredible panoply of animal images, starkly arrayed before them like something out of their childhood storybooks. Even though, in the darkness, they can see only a fraction of the magnificent painted images decorating the walls of their new found "special place," as it came to be known, they instinctively understand its significance. Later that day, bringing shovels and lanterns, they widen their boy-size hole to nearly four feet in diameter. Now they can see more, bison, horses, cattle, all rendered in crisp, realistic detail. They have no inkling of how old the painted images are.The next day, when they allow the first adults to view their amazing discovery, the consensus of opinion is that the images were modern-day forgeries. The boys are even accused of having painted them themselves.   
Lascaux cave art, 15,000-20,000 BC,
Cro Magnon man
Later, as art and archeology experts are brought in to inspect the walls, the real importance of the boys' accidental discovery begins to dawn. The paintings are estimated to be 15,000 years old, at the time, by far the oldest artwork known to man. Further into the cave, the famous "Hall of Bulls" is discovered. Realistic images of horses, bulls, and reindeer are superimposed upon one another, apparently stampeding in all directions. For the most part, the images are fairly linear, but often their are colored masses, amazing, only slightly stylized details, and everywhere, a feeling of dynamic movement that could only have come from the memories of the primitive inhabitants of the region as they struggled to hunt and kill the very beasts they also immortalized with their crude tools and exquisite renderings. Yet, there is nothing crude about these figures. There is foreshortening, contrasts of light and dark, creating illusions of three-dimensional beings. It's little wonder, thousands of years later, France became an important center of art and culture for much of western Europe. Even 15,000 years ago, there was already an impressive tradition of painting and drawing.    
Lascaux cave art, 15,000-20,000 BC., Cro Magnon man

No comments:

Post a Comment