near Montignac, Dordogne
around 17 300 BP
If Chauvet Cave reminds me of the delicacy and the refreshing naiveté of Florentine frescoes, Lascaux - 15 600 years later! - could be seen as representing the Upper Paleolithic Baroque. – Maybe a thematic and spiritual comparision with the Sistine Chapel would yield new insights into Paleolithic art: “Modern Man” developed a stupendous style of painting large frescoes. - They are so overwhelming that the cave's drawings and especially its enigmatic engravings have been completely overlooked. In fact, in sheer numbers Lascaux harbors more engravings than paintings, but they are hidden in the “Apse”, the sacred center of the cave, and are difficult to reproduce and decipher...
Hall of the Bulls (in the Lascaux Replica), photo: Nat. Geographic
Hall of Bulls view towards tunnel to the Axial Gallery Photo: westhillscollege
Plan of the Lascaux. This plan is not to scale and should be considered as a schematic only
Photo: Brunet et al. (1984)
Hall of Bulls, Two cows, a Chinese Horse, and ponies, Photo: Ralph Morse/Time Life
Hall of Bulls, Three Megaloceri, Photo: Ralph Morse/Time Life
Axial Gallery, the Red Cow with a Black Head, Photo: lascaux.culture.fr
Axial Gallery, The aurochs jumped over the horse – also known as the “Falling Cow”, Photo: Ralph Morse/Time Life
Axial Gallery, The second “Chinese Horse” and among other signs an “aviform”, the signs overlay the horse
Axial Gallery, Horse, from the frieze of little horses, Photo: westhillscollege
This is almost a cartoon of an exaggerated horse! Engraved and painted.
Axial Gallery, the Great Megaloceros, photo: Bradshaw Foundation
An analysis of seasonal indicators establishes that each species
represented at Lascaux represents a very specific period of the
calendar. The horses mark the end of winter or the beginning of
spring, the aurochs high summer, whereas the stags have been
represented with the attributes of autumn.
This is not by chance. Each of these species is being represented at a quite explicit phase of the annual cycle, at the beginning of mating. At this time, they are extremely active and animated. From this point of view, the animal figures of Lascaux contrast with those of numerous other decorated sites, where the images present a much more static outline. The iconography of this cave is, above all, a fantastic ode to life.
The Nave, Photo: lascaux.culture.fr
Unfortunately the color rendtion of the photos varies from one photographer to the next.
The Nave, the Great Black Cow painted over a row of some 20 horses. Length of cow: 2.5 m, that of panel: 7 m, photo Don Hitchcock
The Nave, below the Black Cow, in a recess very close to the floor and hence often overlooked, is the Panel of the Imprint. Nonetheless, this is one of the major compositions of the southern sector of the sanctuary: Stitched photo from Norbert Ajoulat
The Nave, Swimming Stags, on the right side of the Nave, Photo Pline/Musée d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux,
The Nave, Two bisons back to back (“Crossed Bisons”), Photo: Ralph Morse/Time Life
Notice the three-dimensional perspective of the two bisons.
The Apse and the Shaft or Well
The “Apse” is a narrow tunnel,
the walls of which are covered with a jumble of engraved “graffiti”.
In a limited space of about thirty square metres with
the walls about 3.5 metres high, the Apse contains more than one
thousand engraved figures. Of these, there are 500 animals and 600
geometric signs or other marks, no humans.
There are but by two papers in the literature yet it is the most mysterious and was possibly the most sacred part of Lascaux. The most extensive one by Norbert Ajoulat is found of all places in American-Buddha, who also presents an analysis of the technical aspects of painting in Lascaux
The engravings in the Apse are arranged in a seamless fashion from the walls to the ceiling. Their density increases from the entrance to the far end, and reaches its maximum where the Apse meets the Shaft, in the most remote part of the chamber. The limestone of the walls and ceiling is very soft, which may partly explain the number of engravings.
A Stag, one of the less chaotic engravings at the end of the Nave, Photo Norbert Ajoulat
These two examples of engraved animals in the Apse show the difficulties in deciphering the drawings. There are no images of humans in Lascaux except for the following drawing in the Well.. Photos Norbert Ajoulat
The Well. This is is one of the most studied and argued about paintings in Lascaux. Photo culture.fr/
It is reached by climbing down a ladder from the Apse. The main scene
includes a disembowelled (its bowels hang out) bison, a man who
appears to have been felled by the bison a spear and a spear-thrower,
a soul bird on a pole, and the outline of a rhino painted at a later
Two techniques have been used in conjunction: the bird, the spears, the upper part of the man, and the fore- and hindlegs of the bison were produced with a brush; the rhinoceros, the upper line and the belly of the bison, the penis and the legs of the man were sprayed. he colouring agent is an oxide of manganese and barium without associated binding agents; its preparation simply required crushing and the addition of water. The product was applied in fine layers on all of the figures, except for the rhinoceros, on which the thickness of the material is appreciably greater. Norbert Ajoulat
The Chamber of the Felines
The Chamber of the Felines owes its name to the six engravings that straddle the entrance to this low and narrow corridor. It is possible to make out the scrotum of the lion. The two sinuous lines below the tail and the parallel incisions emerging from the mouth (possibly indicating roaring) suggest that the lion is marking out its territory. Photo and text Norbert Ajoulat
Lascaux is best known for the paintings in the Hall of the Bulls, the Axial Gallery, and the Nave. However, because of the high density of engraved figures in the Apse, the Shaft and the Chamber of Felines, the art of Lascaux is clearly dominated by engravings.
Most photos and selected text from the website of Don
An excellent analysis of the
technical aspects of the paintings of Lascaux:
Norbert Aujoulat, “LASCAUX-MOVEMENT, SPACE, AND TIME”, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2005, Internet reprint in American-Buddha,
English Edition: Thames & Hudson, Ltd., London 2005
Visit to Lascaux, French Ministry of Culture (mostly dedicated to the restauration problems of the meanwhile closed cave)