Introduction to World Art
Topic: LASCAUX CAVE PAINTINGS
September 12, 1940. A warm afternoon in Dordogne, in
South-western France. Four boys and their dog, walk
along a ridge covered with pine, oak and blackberry
brambles. When their dog begins digging near a hole
beside a downed tree, the boys tell each other that this
might be the entrance to a legendary tunnel running
beneath the Vézère River, leading to a lost treasure in
the woods of Montignac. The youngsters begin to dig,
widening the hole, removing rocks, until they’ve made
an opening large enough for each to slip through. One
by one, they slide down into the earth and emerge into
a dark chamber beneath the ground.
They have discovered not merely another place, but
another time. In the cool dark beneath the sunlit world
above, the boys found themselves in a vast series of
caves, today collectively known as Lascaux, covered with
wall paintings that, by some estimates, are close to
20,000 years old.
The Cave of Lascaux lies in the western edges of the Massif Central
plateau *middle of the southern France*. The cave paintings were made
by the Palaeolithic man and were preserved for many centuries due to
the rock shelters. The trees and forests on the hills preserved the caves
35,000 B.C. to 30,000 B.C. The Chatelperronian culture started the work of painting in the La
Ferrassie cave and the Chauvet cave.
30,000 B.C. to 25,000 B.C. Aurignacian culture took over the work and completed the work on
the sites at La Ferrassie and the Chauvet caves, but also started three
more sites, La Greze, Cosquer and the site which is referred to as, Pair
25,000 B.C. to 20,000 B.C. Sites of La Greze and Pair Non Pair were completed by the Gravettian
culture. During this same time period, the Gravettiens completed
another cave art, which is known as the Laussel.
20,000 B.C. Existing for a very short period, around 20,000 B.C., the Solutrean
culture worked on a site by the name Laxc aux. This culture also
worked on the expansion of the site at Cosquer. It is known as the
20,000 B.C. to 10,000 B.C. The Magdalenian culture completed its work on the sites of Cosquer II,
Laxc aux, Les Toris Freres, Cap Blanc, Niaux and La Mairie. The
Magdalenian culture was the greatest contributor to the Cave of
10,000 B.C. The Azilian culture completed the site of La Marie
The timeline of the Cave of Lascaux is rather curious, due to the presence of artworks of
many cultures in the cave. (A Culture was a settlement that led to the concept of villages
or a large group of families living together)
Despite 70 years of research and analysis the exact
meaning and purpose of the Lascaux Cave paintings remain
Some of the study paintings reflect visions seen by the artists when
they were in a trance - like state. Others theorize the art work is an
account of hunting successes. Some see it as part of a ritual to
improve future hunting. Some say that the clusters and dots within
the images correlate the constellations of Taurus , the Pleiades and
the grouping known as the Summer Triangle.
The placement, together with enormous size and compelling
grandeur of the paintings , suggests that the remote chambers may
have served as sacred or ceremonial meeting places.
Layout of Lascaux Cave
The entrance leads directly into the main chamber called the Hall of the Bulls.
This leads to the slightly smaller Axial Gallery (or Painted Gallery) (a dead end),
or the Passageway, both of which are heavily decorated with various types of art,
including paintings and engravings. The Passageway leads to the Nave and the
Apse (both adorned with images), and then the Mondmilch (Moonmilk) Gallery,
with its crumbly undecorated rock surface and, finally, the painted Chamber of
Hall of the Bulls (aka Rotunda)
The Hall of the Bulls - probably the world's most famous underground gallery
of Paleolithic art - is 19 metres (62 feet) in length and varies in width from 5.5
metres (18 feet) at the entrance to 7.5 metres (25 feet) at its widest point.
This is the entrance of the cave. These frescos represent many animals,
including horses, bulls, deer, ibex, cats, a rhinoceros, and even the legendary
unicorn. These pictures are accompanied by enigmatic signs and some human
representations, such as a man facing a charging bison, raising new questions
about the perception of our prehistoric ancestors.
Entrance of the cave Bulls and Horse with Stags
Bison, bull , half horse and Stags (down) Horse painted over a bull and small
It showcases 161 images, of which
58 are mostly animals and the rest
are geometric forms. There are
drawings on each side of the
chamber, featuring the Chinese
Horses, the Falling Cow and the
The Axial Gallery
It features images of many horses,
ibexes and bisons totalling 385
It hosts over a thousand drawings, 500 animals and 600 geometric forms, which makes
it a dense display of art in a small space.
Apse holds an immense 8.2-foot wide engraving in its midst. the Apse is likely to have
been the sacred heart of Lascaux. Almost every square inch of its limestone walls and
ceiling are covered with engraved drawings.
It only contains eight figures, but they’re some of the most intriguing in
the entire cave. Indeed here is where the Scene of the Dead Man is
located and it’s the only painting that may include a narrative.
This scene contains a bison and a dead man
The man wears a bird mask of some sort and appears to be “dead” or
lying down very rigidly and is the only representation of a human in this
The Nave measures eighteen metres
(59 feet) in length, and averages 6
metres (20 feet) in width. Notable areas
of decoration include: the Panel of the
Imprint (noted for its accompanying
symbols and signs), the Panel of the
Great Black Cow (regarded as the most
beautiful scene in the cave
The Chamber of the Felines
About 30 metres (100 feet) long, the
Chamber of the Felines differs from
Lascaux's other galleries by its narrow
dimensions and steep gradient which
makes movement difficult. It includes a
number of cats. In addition, there are a
number of horses, and signs. Notable
images include: the cats in the Niche of
the Felines, and an engraving of two
Materials Used and Techniques
*reduced to fine particles
•Artists had to select or hand-craft the tools necessary for engraving and painting,
then collect the charcoal, minerals and other raw materials needed for colouration.
•The colour pigments used to decorated Lascaux, and other French caves, were all
obtained from locally available minerals. This explains why the prehistoric colour
palette used by Palaeolithic painters is relatively limited. It includes black, all shades of
red, plus a range of warm colours, from dark brown to straw yellow.
•Nearly all pigments were obtained from minerals, earth or charcoal. The painted and
drawn figures were painted with colours obtained from powdered metallic oxides of
iron and manganese.
•The Lascaux artists employed crude crayons on the smoother walls. Mined mineral
pigments mixed with animal fats and plant juices produced rudimentary painting
•Artists did not use paint brushes thus, in all probability, the broad black outlines of
the figures were created with mats, pads or swabs of moss or hair, or even with blobs
of raw colour.
•Engraving, probably the most common artistic technique used involved scratching
away the outer layer of rock, which generates a difference in colour.
1948-1963 Daily tours of the cave started attracting thousands of visitors each year
1963 The cave was closed to the public after signs of deterioration appear, caused by
the excess amount carbon dioxide produced from the breath of visitors.
1979 The Lascaux cave and several other painted caves in the area were designated a
UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1983 After 11 years of work by local artist Monique Peytral and other painters and
sculptors, Lascaux II opened near the original cave. It featured replications of
some of the paintings and became a popular tourist destination.
2012-2013 In October, 2012, a new exhibition on the Lascaux cave paintings opened in
Bordeaux, France. It featured high-tech replications of many of the paintings,
including some never before seen by the public
Continuation of timeline.....