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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
The Scene of the Dead Man

Lascaux is the setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac, in the Dordogne département. They contain some of the most well-known (Upper Paleolithic) art, dating back to somewhere between 15,000 and 13,000 BCE. They consist mostly of realistic images of large animals, including aurochs, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at the time. They were added to UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1979.

Contents

History

The cave was discovered on 12 September, 1940 by four teenagers, Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas, as well as Ravidat's dog, Robot. Public access was made easier after World War II. By 1955, the carbon dioxide produced by 1,200 visitors per day had visibly damaged the paintings. The cave was closed to the public in 1963 in order to preserve the art. After the cave was closed, the paintings were restored to their original state, and are now monitored on a daily basis. Rooms in the cave include The Great Hall of the Bulls, the Lateral Passage, the Shaft of the Dead Man, the Chamber of Engravings, the Painted Gallery, and the Chamber of Felines.

Lascaux II, a replica of two of the cave halls - the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery - was opened in 1983. Reproductions of other Lascaux artwork can be seen at the Centre of Prehistoric Art at Le Thot, France.

The images

The cave contains nearly 2,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories — animals, human figures and abstract signs. Notably, the paintings contain no images of the surrounding landscape or the vegetation of the time. Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using mineral pigments, although some designs have also been incised into the stone. Many images are too faint to discern, while others have deteriorated entirely.

Over 900 can be identified as animals, and 605 of these have been precisely identified. There are also many geometric figures. Of the animals, equines predominate, with 364 images. There are 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle and bison, each representing 4-5% of the images. A smattering of other images include seven felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. Among the most famous images are four huge, black bulls or aurochs in the Hall of the Bulls. There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists.

The most famous section of the cave is The Great Hall of the Bulls where bulls, equines and stags are depicted. But it is the four black bulls that are the dominant figures among the 36 animals represented here. One of the bulls is Template:Convert long — the largest animal discovered so far in cave art. Additionally, the bulls appear to be in motion.

A painting referred to as "The Crossed Bison" and found in the chamber called the Nave is often held as an example of the skill of the Paleolithic cave painters. The crossed hind legs show the ability to use perspective in a manner that wasn't seen again until the 15th century.

In recent years, new research has suggested that the Lascaux paintings may incorporate prehistoric star charts. Dr Michael Rappenglueck of the University of Munich argues that some of the non-figurative dot clusters and dots within some of the figurative images correlate with the constellations of Taurus, The Pleiades and the grouping known as the "Summer Triangle". Based on her own study of the astronomical significance of Bronze Age petroglyphs in the Vallée des Merveilles and her extensive survey of other prehistoric cave painting sites in the region — most of which appear to have been specifically selected because the interiors are illuminated by the setting sun on the day of the winter solstice — French researcher Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez has further proposed that the gallery of figurative images in the Great Hall represents an extensive star map and that key points on major figures in the group correspond to stars in the main constellations as they appeared in the Paleolithic.

An alternative hypothesis proposed by David Lewis-Williams following work with similar art of the San people of Southern Africa is that this type of art is spiritual in nature relating to visions experienced during ritualistic trance-dancing. These trance visions are a function of the human brain and so are independent of geographical location. Nigel Spivey, a professor of classic art and archeology at the University of Cambridge, has further postulated in his series, How Art Made the World, that dot and lattice patterns overlapping the representational images of animals are very similar to hallucinations provoked by sensory-deprivation. He further postulates that the connections between culturally important animals and these hallucinations led to the invention of image-making, or the art of drawing. Further extrapolations include the later transference of image-making behavior from the cave to megalithic sites, and the subsequent invention of agriculture to feed the site builders.

Some anthropologists and art-historians also theorize that the paintings could be an account of past hunting success, or could represent a mystical ritual in order to improve future hunting endeavors. This latter theory is supported by the overlapping images of one group of animals in the same cave-location as another group of animals, suggesting that one area of the cave was more successful for predicting a plentiful hunting excursion. Daniel Quinn, in The Story of B, hypothesizes that the paintings were instructional in nature, created in order to communicate successful hunting strategies.

In literature, one author has suggested the "artistic decoration has much more of the atmosphere of a nursery ... I have conceived a child as standing in the cave; and it is easy to conceive any child, modern or immeasurably remote, as making a living gesture as if to pat the painted beasts upon the wall."

Applying to the Lascaux paintings the iconographic method of analysis (studying position, direction and size of the figures; organization of the composition; painting technique; distribution of the color planes; research of the image center), Thérèse Guiot-Houdart endeavoured to comprehend the symbolic function of the animals, to identify the theme of each image and finally to reconstitute the canvas of the myth illustrated on the rockwalls.

Human figures

"As is the case in most Upper Paleolithic painted caves, there are almost no images of human figures at Lascaux. Only one appears to exist - a prone stick-like figure, in the Shaft of the Dead Man."[1]

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Lascaux" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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