Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Amazing Ice Age Artists, revisited

I recently came across this picture of the Lions of the Chauvet Cave in France, one of many spectacular panels of drawings, or paintings, discovered there. The paintings there are the oldest known, carbon-dated to approximately 33,000 years ago, almost twice the age of the Lascaux cave paintings.­­­ The forms and movements, the lines and grace of the animals, show incredible talent. The cave painters smudged charcoal to create shadows and depth, they incised lines into the white stone to emphasize certain features—all with charcoal, bits of pigment, and stone or bone knives on rough cave walls. By firelight.
Jean-Baptiste Oudry
Imagine what they might do with the tools we take for granted: brushes, canvas, a limitless palette of colors. Michaelangelo, move over.
Here's a male leopard by 17th century French wildlife artist, Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755). An elegant painting, but it doesn't have the graceful spine of the Chauvet lionesses (I think they're female). To me, they're slinking, probably stalking something, maybe wary of the cave bear they're about to tackle. I may have to re-read Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear. If I remember, she visited the Lascaux caves and studied them before she wrote the novel.
This is a "portrait" of a woman found in Dolní Věstonice, south of Brno, Czech Republic. Possibly the oldest known replica of a human head, it was carved from a mammoth tusk. The woman has an "awry," or deformed, face. The skeleton of a woman with just such a face, having traces of a long jaw joint inflammation, was also found at Dolní. The grave and its contents indicated a very prominent or powerful person, so there's much speculation that it's the same person, possibly a shaman or mystic.

Next to her I placed a sculpture of Nefertiti, found in the studio of Thutmose, considered the official court sculptor of Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, who died in 1336 BC or 1334 BC. There are many similarities in the pieces, considering that one was carved with crude tools thousands of years before.
Courtesy of Miroslav Fišmeister

Keith Schengili-Roberts

I wonder if the storytellers used the paintings to enhance their tales, keeping their audience spellbound through long winter evenings. The stories probably had all the elements we look for today, interesting characters, a riveting plot, conflict--breathtaking cliffhangers. I can see it, flickering firelight, children falling asleep on their parent's lap, the artist among them inspired to create another painting.
When you're thinking how far we've come, consider the Lions of Chauvet. The cave wasn't discovered until 1994. Skeletal remains of a mammoth, lions, and a number of cave bears, carbon-dated to the same time period, were also found in the cave.
By the way, the photographs of the Lions and the mammoth carving of the woman's head were taken by my friend Miroslav Fišmeister. One day I'd like to show you more of his gorgeous pictures, taken around Brno, Czech Republic.
A couple of interesting sites:


louisesor said...

Tremendous! I love the cave paintings and ancient art. read clan of the Cave bears some years ago. Great ost!

louisesor said...

Sorry for the typos. They didn't seem to show up before I posted. Meant to say "Read Clan of the Cave Bear some years ago. Great post!"

sherry fundin said...

Fant*******tastic. Blew me away. Those drawings of the lions are amazing. Can almost feel the motion. Wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing!!!!

Laura Thomas said...

Stunning. It's like they are in motion. You feel the anticipation and cunning. Just beautiful.
We still tell stories around the campfires don't we? I wonder if some of the drawings are to show something that happened.

Ellis Vidler said...

The drawings may well have told the events of a hunt or been a tale of suspense. I believe we've always told stories, and I can imagine sitting around the fire in a cave while the artist drew and the storyteller weaved his spell.
Clan of the Cave Bear was a fascinating book. I loved it. There's also Death in a Time of Ice, by Kaye George. She did a lot of research for her book.

Ellis Vidler said...

Whoops, that's DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE(A People of the Wind Mystery)at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D7YUBG

Kaye George said...

Thanks so much for the bump, Ellis! I got very excited when I learned about the Chauvet Cave discovery recently. What a great post!

Ellis Vidler said...

I was fascinated by the cave when I first heard of it. I have the book with photos of the drawings. They're magnificent, with such movement and character, if that's the word for an animal's nature.

Kaye George said...

Too bad we just had Christmas! My birthday will come eventually.

Polly Iyer said...

It's amazing that the charcoal drawings have survived for that length of time. And no fixative. These cave drawings are an amazing find. Thanks for posting this blog about them.

Ellis Vidler said...

After all these millennia, it's necessary to protect them from light and general human interference. The caves are closed to the public now, but France has built a replica you can see. Judging from the photos and reviews, visiting is still an incredible experience.