Cave Paintings

  • Most paintings tend to be of animals – likely due to their dependence on animals for food
  • Animals were believed to have been painted before a hunt – used as a form of magic to weaken their prey and therefore make them easier to hunt
  • Paintings are painted on the natural rock surface, which helps to add depth to the forms
  • Paintings were all found in caves that were set back from the main entrance – believed to be a separate area from the living quarters, perhaps used for some kind of spiritual activity
  • Paintings were painted overtop of one another – this suggests the original purpose of the paintings was more practical than artistic

Bison, Cave Painting, Altamira Caves c. 15,000-10,000 B.C

  • Altamira caves were found in 1879 – a hunter’s dog fell into a hole that proved to be the blocked entrance to an unknown cave – the cave paintings were on the ceiling – only discovered by a 5 year old girl – the only person who could stand upright (everyone else had to bend over)
  • Animals are painted in shades of red, brown, and black
  • Paintings primarily focus on bison
  • Bison were hunted for food, skin, bones and fur
  • There are at least 16 bison grouped in the centre of the ceiling – surrounded by 2 boars and a deer
  • Pictures are of the animals only – no landscape or horizontal base
  • Technical advancement at Altamira – the animals are painted on the natural protrusions from the rock face – gives them depth – also accurate proportions, used many different colours

Interior of the Lascaux Caves

  • The entrance to the cave was found by 4 teenaged boys – they stumbled upon the entrance when they found a hole leading to the cave under a tree that had been uprooted
  • Lascaux caves were discovered in 1940-41.
  • The caves in Lascaux are filled with paintings of bison, deer, horses, and cattle – all running across the walls
  • Some are simply outlined in black, others are filled in with bright earth colours – all show an uncanny sense of life
  • After WWII – the cave entrance was enlarged and the floors lowered to enable a constant flow of tourists (1200 people per day)
  • By 1955, the first indications of deterioration of the paintings appeared – due to the excess of carbon dioxide in the air brought about by the visitor’s breath
  • The Ministry of Cultural Affairs had the cave closed on April 20, 1963
  • Once the visits to the cave stopped, the causes of the changes eliminated, and the original climatic conditions recreated, the Lascaux cave art returned to its original state
  • A replica was opened in 1983 – called Lascaux II

Man with Bison and Rhinoceros
Lascaux Caves
Dordogne, France,
c. 15,000-10,000 B.C

  • This painting was found on the lower level at the back of the Chamber of Engravings
  • Representation portrays the confrontation between the man and the bison with a fleeing rhinoceros on the left
  • The animal’s aggressiveness is portrayed by the lowered head, as if it were ready to gore its adversary

Venus of Willendorf

  • Believed to have been a fertility idol carried by the men on their hunt (acted as a reminder of their mate back home)
  • Round, bulbous form indicates wealth (lots of food to eat)
  • Exaggerated sexuality – may be emphasizing child bearing
  • Highly detailed texture in the hair, yet no face – perhaps so that the owner could imagine her to be whoever they wanted
  • Venus of Willendorf, c. 24,000-22,000 BC, limestone, 11.1 cm, found in Austria (1908)


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