Art Historical Background
The caves of Lascaux, and in particular the Great Hall of the Bulls, is certainly one of the most famous Prehistoric sites in the world. Interestingly enough it was discovered during WWII by 4 boys and their dog but kept hidden until after the war when people started going down into the cave to see this wonder. Eventually, the guests unknowingly contaminated the space and algae began to grow and destroy the cave paintings. So the French government built an exact replica, Lascaux II, for tourists so that the original may be preserved for scientific research only.
Similar to the Apollo 11 Stones from last week’s post, Lascaux can show us a lot about the society of hunter-and-gatherers. Although these cave paintings were previously viewed as a sort of Prehistoric home decor, that theory is being challenged by the location of some of the important rock paintings.
As you can see from the map above, many of these images are far from the natural entrance, therefore have little to no natural light. Additionally, archaeologists have not been able to find clear evidence of human habitation (trash, animal bones, excrement, etc.) near the paintings. That kind of eliminates the theory that these paintings are just a “menu” or decor of sorts.
Also, we do not know much of anything about Prehistoric spiritual beliefs; however, it is believed that this site was sacred. Sacred meaning set apart from the domestic or secular world, not necessarily “religious.” Artists obviously came back year after year to add-on to previous paintings, we know this because many of the animals overlap one another and seem to be made by various techniques over generations. The artists also crawled through some very tight spaces just to access them where no one would really get to see them…curious.
Read more: The Natural World in Prehistory
- Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History, 15th edition, pg. 22-23
- Khan Academy: Lascaux
- Arts Encyclopedia: Lascaux Cave Paintings (c.17,000 BCE)
- The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World’s Firsts Artists by Gregory Curtis
- 30,000 Years of Art: The Story of Human Creativity Across Time and Space, pg. 11
- Metropolitan Museum, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Lascaux (ca. 15,000 B.C.)
- TIME Magazine: Life at Lascaux: First Color Photos From Another World
- History, This Day in History: September 12th
- The Bradshaw Foundation: The Cave Paintings of the Lascaux Cave
- The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay, pgs. 8-11
- UNESCO, World Heritage Convention: Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley
- The Applied History of Art and Architecture Educational Foundation:The Cave at Lascaux, France
- Exploring the Humanities: Creativity and Culture in the West by Laurie Schneider Adams, pg.9-10
- Independent: Great Works: The Hall of the Bulls (1983)
- Art History Teaching Resources: Prehistory and Prehistoric Art in Europe
- The Annotated Mona Lisa, 2nd edition, by Carol Strickland, pgs. 4-5
- Art History & the Art of History: Art Before History Part 2
- National Geographic History: Buried Treasure: The Cave Art of Lascaux (December 2015/January 2016), pgs. 92-94
- Valerie Parks, AP Art History: Global Prehistory
- Kuntz AP Art History: Global Prehistory
- World Heritage Sites: A Complete Guide to 1031 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 7th edition, pg. 44