ARTH 2010 – Prehistoric Art 2 – Painting

So here is our friend the map again and we're going to look at cave art in several sites way down in Altamira, Spain, which is up here at the top of the boot and Lasko, France, in the middle of France and a few other places as well.

So just to review paleo – old, meso – middle, neo – new are prefixes.

They indicate a prehistoric time period that they represent.

So I also didn't talk to you in the last couple of lectures about the art historical dating.

It used to be that it was always say BC – Before Christ, and AD, which is latin for Anno Domini.

So if you become an art historical scholar and you look at primary sources that are dated back before the nineteen seventies or eighties or maybe even nineties, I'm not sure when this got changed, you'll see BC and AD year of our lord.

Now we say BCE – Before Common Era, and CE, which is Common Era and as it says here sometimes anthropologists use BP.

So if you're an anthropologist you're using that but art historians we use BCE and CE.

I ended the last lecture with a look at some low relief sculpture.

This is high relief sculpture and it's made out of unbaked clay.

This is a high relief sculpture that's made out of unbaked clay and is 25 feet long.

This whole thing is huge.

Think about how long 25 feet is.

And so basically what these artists did is there was clay in the bottom of the cave floor and they just dug it up and shaped it into these bison.

So we don't know much about the people that made these but they found footprints all around them so maybe there were ritual dances and look how they carved it.

Even the bottom of the main there's little in size lines.

So they're already trying to make it a little bit naturalistic.

I mean they're very life-like.

Just think about the fact that these have been in the bottom of this cave for 15,000 years.

Here's our low relief sculpture again.

And so, I thought I would start with those two sculptures to kind of transition into this talk about painting.

And again, remember, this world is dominated by animals.

We think they painted them on the cave walls as a form of magic.

Maybe they could control the animals by painting them on the wall.

Maybe they could ensure successful hunts.

Maybe they'll be used for teaching.

Maybe they make sure that they were healthy herds.

Perhaps there were even things about husbanding the herd, making sure that you don't kill too many of the female animals, for example.

Make sure that the herd is healthy so every year when you come back to hunt there'll be plenty of animals for everybody.

The 19th century and if you've taken a humanities course or you maybe take literature or English or theater yet we know that in the 19th century there was a great love of beauty and there were also lots and lots of different ideas about what art was.

And so, humans as is their want will put their own interpretation on why artwork is making, in particular painting.

So in the early, in the 19th century, they thought perhaps this was a love of beauty that people just wanted to paint.

It's interesting to read old artist historical books and see different things they say about prehistoric art.

In the early 20th century a lot of historians thought maybe they were fertility rituals or sympathetic magic and in the nineteen-twenties became religious expression.

Then, in the later twentieth-century this is when begin, we begin saying, "let's interpret this".

So in the late 20th century and this is the the study of art history that I ascribe to is I like to call myself a social art historian.

That is to say, that I believe that art is the product of its culture and that to exist inextricably and that we learn a great deal about the cultures that created the art but also we can think about the fact that art is affecting the culture as well.

So just to look at what some of these theories where I put some of them up on these slides so you'd understand and it's fun to look this stuff up, it's fun to look up for instance this idea of sympathetic magic.

There's this idea that things that look the same have actual physical influence on each other and the things that are in contact can act on each other from great distances and one thing that I think is pretty interesting about this is if you look at modern day theories of quantum physics or chaos theory isn't it interesting if you take that a whole adage "the wing of a butterfly that flutters" in Japan causes a tornado with the other end of the world.

Could there be something to this sympathetic magic? Sometimes the animals depicted weren't food animals.

So this slide just gives you a list of the cave painting sites.

Chauvet has the oldest footprints anybody's ever seen and they're dated to 24,000 BCE.

And the paintings if you can go online and look up Chauvet Cave and again I don't have access to that many images for these power points, plus it's a lot of material to get through but it's really worth looking up Chauvet Cave because look how life-like these are, they're moving, you can just imagine these bison running this herd and the drawings are so life-like.

These drawings and Chauvet do have a lot of human figures in them.

And there's so many different kinds of animals here.

Maybe you'll even find some that I didn't list there.

Look at the two bison that are fighting at the bottom.

Cosques Cave was discovered by a diver.

Can you imagine being that diver that was swimming around and found this little cave opening and he swam in that little shaft and then came up and found this cave with all these paintings and 25,000 year old hand prints.

Just imagine what that would have been like.

Maybe this was colored but these images are so life-like.

We know this is a stallion, we can, it completely says horse.

You see the main little bit of shading, undercutting under his face and really the only way that you can see this cave now is to go online, which I encourage you to do.

So what did they use for painting? They blew out of a little tube and maybe they put their hand up there to make hand prints, they also maybe had sticks that they painted with.

They could have made brushes out of all different kinds of materials, maybe animal hair or vegetable matter, we know today our finest brushes are made from kolinsky sable and they had a multitude of animals to make different kinds of brushes out so they had all sorts of resources at their fingertips and these are their natural materials you can find these today you could make your own cave painting on the, on the, on a rock using different kinds of ocher and if you heat ocher up you can get all these different shades of color out of ochre.

If you're a painter it's fun to play with this stuff.

We have evidence that they did things like – they made sponges out of maybe some type of plant material just by the kinds of marks that are made, they made their own crayons.

They found 19 crayons at Lascaux.

If you go to there's some museum there, I think, you can go and see these 20,000 year-old crayons.

So here's a little drawing.

This drawing is in your book too.

We'll revisit Pech-Merle again.

We think they probably ate their horses and I just put Pech-Merle here because I wanted you to see the hands.

So if you look right above this spotted horse up here that little hand print, the hand on the slide earlier, this is a was a detail of this painting.

Pech-Merle is actually best known for its painting of horses and they threw rocks at these paintings that were covered with ocher.

Some people say the circles are decorations, others that maybe they're marks left by weapons, perhaps they would have a ritual where every time someone killed a horse they came to put a spot on this one.

Again we do know that they had some type of ritual where they colored rocks with red ocher and threw them at these paintings.

You can see the little red marks there.

Altamira was discovered in the second half of the 19th century and the paintings in this cave are 12,000 years old and again, mostly bison but naturalistically painted portraying movement.

So we've got large gaps of years between the dates of these caves, don't forget that.

The thing that's interesting and different about Altamira is that there were bumps in the roof of the cave and that the artists created the figures by taking saying "oh, these bumps are the shape of a bison" so they turn the bumps into bison.

And so here it doesn't even look as if it's standing on the ground it's almost of it as if it's falling.

One interpretation of this is it has to do with a hunting method where you would herd off bison off a cliff.

You can see a person underneath this one gives you a sense of the scale on the right you see the little man underneath the roof of the cave.

This was actually one of the very first caves with paintings to be discovered and because they look as though they're floating that's why they believe it might have had to do with the cliff drive coupled with the knowledge that native North Americans actually practiced this.

So even 10,000 years earlier and we already looked at Chauvet but we can see the movement here.

So we've got a long tradition of this kind of painting.

There's a 10,000 years spread and you think about the action and again this was 10,000 years earlier from Chauvet but we have this idea of profile.

They can say so much with just a few simple lines.

Lascaux is one of the best-known caves and it's very large, this is a diagram as if you chop the top of the mountain off and you saw all the different chambers inside Lascaux.

Again, I said this earlier, most people agree people didn't live inside these caves.

They would live at the mouth of the cave where they could be sheltered but inside the cave it's dark, it's damp, it's narrow and so it's most likely that these insides were used for ceremonies but also I love to think about this because we, again, we have a nomadic culture so they perhaps they would come and gather these different places once or twice a year, they, lots of clans would come and gather together even if they had different rituals and things like that but also perhaps they were recording stories, perhaps they were recording messages, perhaps it was a prehistoric version of a Facebook wall if you will.

This is the Hall of the Bulls inside the Lascaux cave and they would have had to have scaffolding, they would have, it's so high up this is a really large chamber is too high for somebody to just reach up and paint.

They would have had to build something to stand on to make all these paintings.

So it meant that they have to plan ahead, they'd have to have enough light in there to see what they were doing and speaking of light this is another thing to think about because we see these images very clearly and that's because when somebody documented this get ready to write the book they took really good cameras like the ones that are shining on me right now in this video and they lit everything up really bright so you could see it really really well but the prehistoric people that were in conducting their rituals or making these paintings would not have had bright electric halogen lights they would have had little lamps like that ibex lamp that we looked at or perhaps torches but it would have been very flickering, very mysterious, very dark so as the light flickered across these bulls on this ceiling it would have added to this feeling of movement because they would have been going in and out of light and shadow and we see all different kinds of sizes here but if you be really really quiet and you sit and you think about this and try to just use your imagination, can you hear the sound of that herd? And another thing, so here's this narrow passageway and they've also found traces of hallucinogens and some of these sites so you can try to use your imagination going through this narrow passageway out into that big chamber as part of this ritual and so your experience is heightened by the torchlight, by you know whatever substance you might have ingested.

This is an engraving of a foreshortened view of a horse and on the right there's a drawing to really show you what it looks like it's a view that's really really hard to draw if you've ever taken a drawing class you know what I'm talking about but look how well this artist understood this foreshortening.

It's, you know, you can take yourself right up to Masaccio here.

The black-and-white diagram on the right is just highlighting the engraved legs there.

The shading and the movement.

So also, we think that these images tell stories and there's several different interpretations of this – your book has one, there's other interpretations online and so I'm not going to go into telling all these stories.

You can see some of them on the slide, something you read and I encourage you to look up and see all the different stories for this but let's just look at it.

Here we have this bird headed man remember our lion human and you know we definitely know he's a man, we can see the phallus there and the bull now has the bulges gored him or is about to kill the bowl is this a spear thrower or is this some other kind of bird what is this animal we're here.

The Bison has been disemboweled, it will soon die but did it kill the man first, is the man even dead, perhaps this line of dots at the bottom shows a good hunting location, are they a way of counting? Again, going back to the idea – are these paintings are something that people would return to again and again? So were they added to over time.

Most likely they were.

Graffiti, if you will.

So we could have shamanism, we could have simply a story of an event as the stag in the slide before.

This image is all the way at the end of a very narrow shaft ,like that when I showed you in a picture a little bit ago.

And actually many of these images are that way.

So are they perhaps different stops on a ceremonial journey.

So many many of the images at Lascaux are telling stories and we can use our imagination to imagine what those are.