Little Bits of History

Lascaux

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 12, 2010

September 12, 1940: Four boys go spelunking at Lascaux, France and find amazing pre-historic drawings on the walls of the caves. The drawings on the caves have been dated to between 13,000 to 15,000 BC and possibly are as old as 25,000 BC.

Sample of Lascaux cave painting

There are three basic themes to the art work – animals, humans, and signs. There is no scenery, no vegetation, no landscapes. One wall shows what can be interpreted as a narrative. There is a man with the face of a bird, or wearing a mask, who is being gored by a wounded bison. He is falling backwards, presumably to his death. Surrounding this tableau are patterns of dots, a rhino, and a stick with a bird on top. Interpretation of the art is not possible. We can guess, but we will never know what the story is trying to tell us or the artists’ peers.

The artists of the time used perspective, distorting animals drawn high up the walls so that they would appear correctly from the ground. They also must have had some scaffolding to paint that high. Lighting the deep caverns was accomplished by hollowing part of a flat rock, filling it with some type of animal fat or tallow, and using it as a torch. Creating pigments from natural substances gave the artwork another layer of technical acumen. Pigments dropped to the ground while painting and these are what has been used in order to date the works.

After World War II, the caves were more easily accessible. By 1955, the carbon dioxide produced by 1,200 visitors per day was destroying the caves. They were closed to the public in 1963 with a replica built. This replica can be toured. Creating the second site gave scientists opportunities to recreate the experiences of the previous artists, creating the pigments, using perspective, and becoming forgers of the oldest art on earth.

“We have invented nothing.” – Pablo Picasso, exiting the caves

“Lots of the wild animals in the caves have spears in them and blood coming out of their mouths and everything that a hunter would be familiar with. These were the Ferraris and football games of their time. They painted what was on their minds.” – Dale Guthrie

“Every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.” Daniel Barenboim

“All great art … creates in the beholder not self-satisfaction but wonder and awe. Its great liberation is to lift us out of ourselves.” – Dorothy Thompson

Also on this day, in 1846 Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning elope.

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