Cave Art FEBRUARY 9, 2009
HENRI BREUIL (1877-1961) ‘the pope of prehistory’ To draw the animal on the wall was to predict the animal. To slay the animal required an evocation of the animal and a mastery of the animal. His art was a provocation of successful hunting, his picture a target, a technique, a diagram, a butcher’s chart.
Breuil believed that an actual bear head was joined to this clay body and that the holes we see were left by spears. CAVE BEAR, MONTESPAN, France
* CLAY BISON TUC D’AUDOUBERT, Ariège, France c. 13,000-8,000 B.C.
“SPEARED BISON” NIAUX, France c. 13,000 B.C.
* REINDEER LASCAUX, Dordogne, France c. 15,000-13,000 B.C.
BIG CAT CHAUVET, France c. 25,000-17,000 B.C.
If the paintings have a use, it is not to provide food, but something outside the means of mere survival. Instead of seeing what we want to see, let’s see what’s there. There’s nothing about a picture of a reindeer that tells us the person who drew it believed it was as good as a reindeer.
* LIONS CHAUVET, France c. 25,000-17,000 B.C.
STAG LASCAUX, Dordogne, France c. 15,000-13,000 B.C.
* “CHINESE HORSE” LASCAUX, France c. 15,000-13,000 B.C.
BISON CHAUVET, France c. 25,000-17,000 B.C.
BISON NIAUX, France c. 13,000 B.C.
* BISON ALTAMIRA, Spain c. 12,000 B.C.
* AUROCH, “Hall of Running Bulls,” LASCAUX, DORDOGNE, France: 15,000-13,000 B.C.
HIND ALTAMIRA, Spain c. 12,000 B.C.
STAG COSQUER, France c. 25,000 B.C.
CHAMOIS CARVED ON REINDEER HORN FRANCE c. 14,000 B.C.
* MAMMOTHS CHAUVET, France c. 25,000-17,000 B.C.
CAVE BEAR CHAUVET, France c. 25,000-17,000 B.C.
* HYENA & PANTHER CHAUVET, France 25,000-17,000 B.C.
* LION PANEL CHAUVET, France c. 25,000-17,000 B.C.
RHINOCEROS (detail of LION PANEL) CHAUVET, France c. 25,000-17,000 B.C.
* JELLYFISH COSQUER, France 25,000 B.C.
HORSE INSIDE HORSE LASCAUX, France c. 15,000-16,000 B.C.
* LIONS CHAUVET, France c. 25,000-17,000 B.C.
HORSES AND HANDPRINTS PECH-MERLE, Dordogne, France c. 16,000 B.C.
They are so far away, that our interpretations will always reveal more about us than they will about them. Yet other information is so scant … that the paintings will always only speak for themselves.
CAVE COMPLEXES CAVE PAINTING DATE CAVE DISCOVERY DATE 1994 1985 1940 1879 • CHAUVET (30/25,000-17,000 B.C.) • COSQUER (25,000 B.C.) • LASCAUX (15,000-13,000 B.C.) • ALTAMIRA (12,000 B.C.)
HYENA & PANTHER CHAUVET, France 25,000-17,000 B.C. His “first notable step toward self-awareness may have been his formal recognition of death … he saw the uniqueness of each creature and he saw himself as an object.”
There was oneness with animals. Yet because his life was something that could not be maintained without them, he perceived his weakness, his inferiority, … his separation from the animal … Maybe he was trying to remember what it was like to think like an animal in order to outwit the animal. Maybe he was trying to regain through magic an animal spirit that had been lost.
CHAUVET, France HORSES c. 25,000-17,000 B.C.
Think of it as an issue of translation: to get the meaning we have to put it in a language that makes sense to us. (We update words so we can understand the spirit of the words that are out-of-date) • 2. Think of it as an issue of translation: to get the meaning is to learn the language. By using different words we are summoning a different meaning and a different spirit. If this symbol is drawn incorrectly, it will have a different (even contradictory) effect. It’s like a magic spell that has to be recited correctly to produce the intended result.
These two approaches, the first emphasizing the reality of spirit, the second, the reality of form, will inform the way we see and feel and what we see and feel. Of course, these approaches are not independent of one another. People look at form with an eye toward spirit and people discard abstract beliefs in the face of overwhelming formal evidence.
Though he was enabled by a body of knowledge and a technique denied to historians that came before him, to the scientists who followed him, he worked blind.
HORSES COSQUER, France c. 25,000 B.C. … the art of the past is relevant only insomuch as it is relevant to our needs or our condition in the present. We see ourselves in it. We don’t absent ourselves to see it.
HORSES AXIAL GALLERY LASCAUX, France c. 15,000-13,000 B.C. The present of the past was a dark fog. Meanings change, evolve, are slow to reveal themselves. The real truth of an event occurs after the event has passed. We gain perspective on things, we say. We can never know how our present will look as someone else’s past.
AUKS COSQUER, France c. 25,000 B.C. We have to be careful not to take the insignificant too seriously
If we’re apt to give meaning to things that have none, we’re also liable to give less weight to things that should be treated with solemnity. BULL Hall of Running Bulls, LASCAUX, France, c.15,000-13,000 B.C.
THE SORCERER (THE SHAMAN) TROIS-FRÈRES ARIÈGE, Dordogne, France c. 13,000-11,000 B.C.
* THE SORCERER (THE SHAMAN) TROIS-FRÈRES ARIÈGE, Dordogne, France c. 13,000-11,000 B.C.