Materials & Painting Technique
Paleolithic artists of the Lascaux caves in France were surprisingly creative in their techniques in painting the animal scenes. The caves offered a perfect site for these paintings because of its white walls. Built-up calcite created a highly reflective surface and a clean white canvas for the painters to create on. Being surrounded by natural resources, the cavemen used minerals to create colors such as red, brown, orange, and yellow.
Once they ground up these minerals, they applied them to the wall by brushes, plant stems, or bones. The brushes consisted of animal hair at the end of sticks, although no traces of these brushes have been found within the cave. They also utilized plant stems by sticking them into the mineral paint and drawing on the walls with them.
Evidence of hollowed out bones had been found in the cave and are believed to have been used to blow paint onto the walls as shown below. The bone tools may also helped the artists create the amazing use of shading applied to the animals. They most likely used the plant stems to form the many silhouettes seen that could then be filled in with the hollowed out bone.
Read more: #2. Great Hall of Bulls
The artists painted to show meaning, not to be realistic. The animals were painted in a composite view so that the viewers could see the head from the front but also so one could see both horns. It was important to show that the animal had two distinctive horns because the artist wanted to make sure the viewer knew it was a bull. If they had hidden one horn behind the other as it would be seen in real life, it wouldn’t send the same message. People of this era weren’t concerned with reality or making images accurate. What mattered was the meaning, which suggests that the paintings were made for religious or ritual purposes instead of being open to the public. This is supported by the fact that it was hard to access the paintings because they were located in a distant shaft.
Read more: Prehistoric Natural World
Deep within the caves, the shaft with the murals had no natural sunlight coming through. This means that the painters must have used some artificial light to illuminate the walls. It has been suggested that candles made of animal fat were used in order to create a long-lasting light source. They also may have used torches made of the plant material nearby. Either way, these devices must have created flickering light, which may have affected how the caveman painted his or her image.
Despite the lack of light, ready-made paints, and efficient tools, the artists of the Hall of the Bulls were able to create beautiful pictures that are awesome and are pretty unbelievable saying as we tend to view cavemen as “ugga” and “ugga” who just grunt to communicate. Plus, their techniques are still utilized today. Modern artists still draw, and blow pens are available in our stores to create the same effects of the hollowed out bones. In this way, the Paleolithic painters began a process thousands of years ago that we continue with today.
- “Lascaux (ca.15000 B.C)”. Helibrunn Timeline of Art History. Last modified October 2000. www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/lasc/hd_lasc.htm.
- Fred S. Keleiner, Gardner’s Art Through The Ages: A Global History, Fifteenth Edition. Boston Cengage Learning, 2014.