This pictograph, "The obelisk Scene" is situated in the tower of the Dead Man. One of the greatest and also most baffling paintings at Lascaux Cave. See likewise Oldest rock Age Art: peak 100 Works.

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OLDEST PREHISTORIC cave ART because that details that the earliest rock Age cave art, see: Blombos cave Rock Art.


• Lascaux: A Summary • Discovery and also Condition • dating • Layout the Lascaux cavern • The hall of the Bulls • The Axial collection (Also called the Painted Gallery) • The Passageway • The Apse • The shaft of the Dead guy • The Nave • The Mondmilch (Moonmilk) gallery • The chamber of the Felines • The cavern Art • Art materials • paint Pigments • paint Brushes • Drawing, Painting, Engraving methods • definition and interpretation • connected Articles

The Chinese Horse, Lascaux Cave. Note the Pectiform over the horse"s head.

CHRONOLOGY of LATE stone AGE ART dates are approximate • Mesolithic Art (c.10,000-6,000 BCE) • Neolithic Art (c.6,000-2,000 BCE)

Lascaux cave Paintings: A Summary

During the top Paleolithic period, i m sorry began around 40,000 BCE, Neanderthal man was replaced by a an ext "modern" variation of Homo sapiens. In ~ the exact same time, primitive art take it a enormous leap forward, together exemplified through the cavern painting of west Europe, that got to its apogee top top the walls and ceilings the Lascaux Cave (France) and Altamira Cave (Spain), both of i beg your pardon contain several of the greatest instances of Franco-Cantabrian cavern art, native the Solutrean-Magdalenian era, dating to between 17,000 and 15,000 BCE. (See additionally the splendid bison paintings at Font de Gaume cavern in the Perigord.)

Discovered in 1940, close to the village of Montignac, in the Dordogne region of southwestern France, Lascaux is especially famous for its painting, which contains a rare example of a person figure; the largest solitary image ever uncovered in a prehistoric cave (the great Black Bull); and also a quantity of mysterious abstract signs, which have actually yet to it is in deciphered. Its most famous chambers encompass the "Hall of the Bulls", the "Axial Gallery", the "Apse" and also the "Shaft". In total, Lascaux"s galleries and also passageways - extending around 240 metres in size - contain some 2,000 images, around 900 of which room animals, and also the remainder geometric signs of differing shapes. The sheer variety of images, their size and exceptional realism, as well as their spectacular colours, is why Lascaux (like Altamira) is periodically referred to as "The Sistine Chapel that Prehistory". Favor the Chauvet cave paintings, Lascaux"s cavern art was defended by a landslide i beg your pardon sealed off accessibility to the cave roughly 13,000 BCE. Not lengthy after its opening in 1948, Pablo Picasso paid a visit and also was amazed in ~ the top quality of the cave"s absent art, saying the man had actually learned nothing new since then. In 1979, Lascaux was added to the perform of UNESCO civilization Heritage Sites, along with another 147 primitive sites and also 25 decorated caves situated in the Vezere sink of the Correze and Dordogne regions. In 1963, early out to proceeding environmental problems inside the cave, Lascaux to be closed to the public. In 1983, an exact replica that the an excellent Hall of the Bulls and the Painted gallery - created under Monique Peytral and also known together "Lascaux II" - was opened up a couple of hundred metres from the initial cave, and also it is this replica that visitors see today. In addition, a full range of Lascaux"s parietal art deserve to be regarded at the center of ancient Art, situated close by in ~ Le Thot. Curiously, what is now France"s oldest recognized prehistoric cavern art - the Abri Castanet Engravings (c.35,000 BCE) - was found recently at a site much less than 7 miles from Lascaux.

To understand just how Lascaux"s cave painting fits into the development of stone Age culture, see: Prehistoric arts Timeline. Alternatively, to compare Lascaux through the faster caves, see: El Castillo cavern Paintings (39,000 BCE). To compare Lascaux v Australian art, see Bradshaw paints (Kimberley), Ubirr Rock arts (Arnhem Land), Kimberley Rock arts (Western Australia), and also Burrup Peninsula Rock art (Pilbara). These formats of painting and engraving continued during the europe Solutrean and also Magdalenian eras, although their earliest creates are thought to have an initial emerged roughly 30,000 BCE.

Discovery and also Condition

The Lascaux cave facility was found in 1940 by teenagers Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencasin, and eight year later, it was opened up to the public. By 1955, lot of the cave"s parietal arts was start to deteriorate due to the quantity of carbon dioxide exhaled through the 1200 daily visitors, and also other environmental problems. Lichens and crystals began to show up on the walls. As a result, in 1963 the site was closed to the public. Due to the fact that then, more threats to the verity of Lascaux"s cave paintings have been led to by microbial and fungal growths. This worsened throughout the 2000s, prompting the French set of society to theorem an worldwide symposium in Paris in 2009 ("Lascaux and also Preservation problems in Subterranean Environments") to debate and resolve the problem.

Today, only a small handful of civilization (mostly scientists) are allowed inside Lascaux for a few days each year in stimulate to assist prevent the splendid paintings, drawings and also engravings indigenous joining their creators, and vanishing entirely. One task that has actually been successful is the repair of the initial entrance to enable sunlight to get in the cave. In 1999, a handful of researchers witnessed this occasion for the first time in 15,000 years. It is now developed that the cavern interior closest to the entrance - including the hall of the Bulls and also the Painted collection - would have been bright sufficient to work by for about one hour, for numerous days every year.


Chronological questions around the period of Lascaux"s cavern paintings, end what period they were created, and the identification of the oldest art in the complex, space still gift debated. The Paleolithic scholar Andre Leroi-Gourhan believes the Lascaux to be decorated between the finish of Solutrean art and also the start of Magdalenian art (c.15,000-13,000 BCE). Follow to Leroi-Gourhan, the layout of Lascaux"s paints was constant with other art uncovered during this period. Specific characteristics the the style include bison horns displayed in front-view; front horns that bovines depicted by a basic curve while the behind horn is much more sinuous; deer antlers shown in a certain perspective, and so on. Various other experts, however, and a radiocarbon test an outcome of 17,000 BCE, obtained in 1998 from a fragment that a spearhead found in the Apse, places the arts at the junction in between the Solutrean era and the pre-Magdalenian Badegoulian era. This check out is more supported through the "Placard type" style of geometrical signs in the cave. According to paleolithic scholar Jean Clottes, they space very similar to the "chimney" signs found in the Pech-Merle cavern paintings (Lot, France), whose arts dates back as much as 25,000 BCE. In other words, the cave painting at Lascaux is most most likely to date earlier to about 15,000-17,000 BCE, with the earliest art being produced no later than 17,000 BCE. Furthermore, the unity of style found in the drawings and engravings in ~ Lascaux, suggests that many were produced during a reasonably short period of time, perhaps less than two millennia. (Note: because that a comparison v Gravettian imagery, see Cosquer cavern cave paintings.)

Layout that Lascaux Cave


The enntrance gate leads straight into the key chamber dubbed the hall of the Bulls. This leads to the slightly smaller sized Axial collection (or Painted Gallery) (a dead end), or the Passageway, both of which are greatly decorated through various species of art, consisting of paintings and also engravings. The Passageway leads to the Nave and the Apse (both adorned with images), and also then the Mondmilch (Moonmilk) Gallery, through its crumbly undecorated rock surface and, finally, the painted room of the Felines.

Hall of the Bulls

The room of the Bulls - more than likely the world"s most well known underground gallery of Paleolithic arts - is 19 metres (62 feet) in length and varies in broad from 5.5 metres (18 feet) in ~ the enntrance gate to 7.5 metres (25 feet) at its widest point. As one start the main area (the Rotunda) the very first image one encounters is a horse"s head and neck through a fuzzy mane. The second is the secret Unicorn. Other notable pictures found in the hall of the Bulls encompass the Frieze that the Black steeds (a long line of aurochs and also horses), the Frieze of the small Stags, heads of some 6 bulls, a headless horse and also a bear. There space two exits from the hall of the Bulls: one leader to the Axial Gallery, a dead end; the various other to the main Passageway.

The Axial gallery (Also called the Painted Gallery)

This rectilinear collection is over 22 metres (72 feet) long and leads come a dead end. Its unique feature is its opening, which art doubters justifiably regard as the apogee the Palaeolithic parietal art. All the classic prehistoric animals are pictorialized here in a swirl of significant works of art: the good Black Bull, the three Chinese Horses, The fallout’s Cow, the Fleeing Horse, too as more aurochs, an ext bulls, bison, ibexes, and also horses. The largest work is the 17-foot long Great black Bull, whose monumental size is magnified by the means the black color hide is depicted against the pale background and by the lack of any other comparably sized numbers nearby. Nearly all the bull"s anatomy is represented, other than for the prior left hoof. The entire pet has been spray-painted. Thereafter, the Axial Gallery i do not care a rather narrow pathway v a low ceiling. Numerous of the paintings have been attracted using the folds and contours that the walls to boost depth and also perspective. At the end of the Gallery, in a section well-known as the Meander, is the Upside-down Horse.

The Passageway

The section of the cave that connects the room of the Bulls to the Apse and also the Nave is dubbed the "Passageway". However, evaluate by the concentration of numbers on its wall surfaces - 380 figures, consisting of 240 finish or fragmentary animals like aurochs, bison, deer, horses and also ibex; 80 signs, and also 60 indeterminate pictures - primitive artists observed it not simply as a connecting passage however as an essential gallery in its very own right. That is about 17 metres (56 feet) in length and averages around 4 metres (13 feet) in width. In Solutrean times, that is ceiling varied between 4 and 5 feet in height. Notable pictures include: a procession of engraved horses, the steed with the turned-back foot, and the mustache horse.

At the end of the Passageway is one intersection: joining from the best is the Apse; while the continuation of the Passageway is called the Nave.

The Apse

This is a semi-spherical cavern, no unlike the apse in a Romanesque basilica, for this reason its name. Judging by the number of ceremonial artefacts discovered here, as well as its art, the Apse is most likely to have actually been the spiritual heart of Lascaux. Around 4.5 metres in diameter (15 feet), its ceiling is about 1.6 to 2.7 metres in height high (5-9 feet). Virtually every square customs of that is limestone walls and ceiling room covered v overlapping petroglyphs in the form of engraved drawings. In all, over there are more than one thousands figures: part 500 animals (mostly deer) and 600 geometric signs or various other abstract markings. The Apse account for more than fifty percent of the decorative arts in the entire cave. Curiously, the greatest density of pictures occurs in the deepest component of the chamber whereby the Apse meets the Shaft. Notable photos include: the 6-foot wide significant Stag - the largest petroglyph in ~ Lascaux - the stays of several big black aurochs, the Stag with Thirteen Arrows, the panel of the Musk Ox, the Frieze that the Painted and also Engraved Stags, and also the good Sorcerer.

The Shaft

In the floor that the Apse is a feet (now populated by a ladder) giving access to "the shaft of the Dead Man" a small part of an underlying cavern known as the good Fissure. It is the deepest, many confined component of the whole cave. At the bottom the the ladder and on the adjoining wall surface is among the many remarkable primitive pictographs yet discovered. The main scene depicts a fight between a bison and also a man: the bison has been stabbed by a spear and appears to it is in dead. The man has actually a bird-like head and also is extended out as if he too is dead. Lying alongside the man is a bird on a pole. Not surprisingly, provided the reality that people are nearly never portrayed in stone Age paintings, and also that complicated narrative scenes prefer this one room equally rare, the pictograph has actually attracted fierce debate regarding its specific meaning. Strangely, there are very few other photos in the Shaft. Just eight have actually been found: four pets (bird, bison, horse, and rhino), and also three geometric signs.

The Nave

The Nave measures eighteen metres (59 feet) in length, and averages 6 metres (20 feet) in width. That is ceiling varies between 2.5 metres (8.5 feet) at the entrance and 8 metres (27 feet) in ~ the much end. The floor has a 19 percent slope, prior to levelling out as it leads into the Mondmilch Gallery. Many of the images in the Nave room engravings because of the soft of the rock. Notable areas of decoration include: the dashboard of the Imprint (noted for its accompanying symbols and also signs), the dashboard of seven Ibexes, the panel of the great Black Cow (regarded together the many beautiful scene in the cave), the overcome Bison (best example of Magdalenian usage of perspective), and also the Frieze the the swim Stags, portrayed swimming in an imaginary stream.

The Mondmilch (Moonmilk) Gallery

Between the Nave and also the chamber of the Felines, is the Mondmilch (Moonmilk) Gallery, named after that is milky-coloured stalagmite encrustation. Part 20 metres (66 feet) lengthy and about 2 metres (6.5 feet) wide, the ceiling rises together high as 8 metres (27 feet). The crumbly surfaces defines the complete absence of any type of artistic decoration.

The room of the Felines

About 30 metres (100 feet) long, the room of the Felines differs from Lascaux"s various other galleries through its small dimensions and steep gradient which makes activity difficult. As a result, the spectator should crouch under to check out the art, i beg your pardon - together the name says - contains a number of cats. In addition, there space a number of horses, and signs. Notable pictures include: the cat in the Niche the the Felines, and an engraving of 2 lions mating.

The cave Art

Two species of cave art predominate in Paleolithic culture: drawing and also engraving. In ~ Lascaux, however, the is paint that constrain - a comparably rare situation in French primitive caves. The main technique used by Lascaux"s artists was the spraying the pulverized colour pigments under a tube made the wood, bone or plant products - a technique which appears to have actually worked effectively on all surfaces transparent the subterranean complex.

The 2,000 or so pictures divide into two main categories: animals and symbols. The animals consist of species that Magdalenian cavemen would have actually hunted and eaten (like aurochs, deer, musk-oxen, horses and bison), and dangerous predators that they would have feared (like bears, lions, and wolves). Curiously, in view of the truth that the Magdalenian era is nicknamed the "reindeer age", and the huge number the reindeer bones uncovered in the cave, there is only one image of a reindeer in the entire complex.

Research has established that every animal species pictorialized at Lascaux represents a specific duration of the calendar, according to their mating habits. Steeds represent the finish of winter or the beginning of spring; aurochs high summer; while stags mark the beginning of autumn. Throughout their mating period, they are extremely energetic and animated. Native this viewpoint, the animal art at Lascaux contrasts through that of several other sites, whose animal pictures market a much much more static outline. (Compare, for instance, the images of mammoths among the Kapova cave Paintings (12,500 BCE) in the Shulgan-Tash Preserve, Russia. For examples of Neolithic animal art from Anatolia, see: Gobekli Tepe, Megalithic Art.)

Lascaux"s artists were additionally extremely adept at catching the vitality that the pets depicted. They did this by using broad, rhythmic outlines approximately areas that soft colouring. Typically, animals are portrayed in a slightly twisted perspective, with their heads presented in profile however with your horns or antlers painted from the front. The result is come imbue the figures with an ext visual power. The combined use of profile and also frontal view is likewise a typical feature of Mesopotamian art and Egyptian art.

The various abstract signs and symbols can be separated into twelve various groups. They encompass straight lines, parallel lines, branching lines, nested convergent lines, quadrangular shapes, claviform signs, v-shaped lines, and also dots. Several of the more facility markings have actually affinities v the summary art uncovered at the Gabillou cave, additionally in the Dordogne.

Distribution of imagery is fairly uneven. More than half of the cave"s full art is on the walls and also ceiling of the Apse, which comprises just 6 percent of the surface area. The Passageway is the next most greatly decorated area.

When mentioning the imaginative quality of rock Age cave art, one need to bear in mental the adverse conditions in which stone Age painters worked, including: bad light (most paints were produced with the assist of flaming torches or primitive stone lamps fuelled by animal fat); and awkward working problems (requiring the usage of primitive scaffolding to with high walls and ceilings). In addition, in ~ Lascaux (as well together at least 20 caves in France and Spain), there are primitive hand stencils and prints that "mutilated" hand left in clay. Experts have suggested that since thumbs continued to be on every the hands, the injuries may have actually been led to by frostbite.

Note: To compare Lascaux cave art through that that Africa, check out the pet paintings on the Apollo 11 cavern Stones (c.25,500 BCE).

Art Materials

Cave painting throughout the rock Age would have required many resources. First, the artists had actually to pick or hand-craft the tools important for engraving and painting; then collect the charcoal, minerals and other raw products needed because that colouration. This alone would have forced a wide-ranging knowledge of the regional district, and also its potential. Also, one-of-a-kind attention would have to be paid to the different chambers and also rock surfaces to be decorated inside the cave. An experienced ancient artist would certainly advise on what ready was forced - cleaning, scraping, or preparatory sketching - how best to use paint to different surfaces, what combination of pigments and also additives to be needed, and so on. Particular equipment could be built, like scaffolding - as used in the Apse at Lascaux - while specific areas the the cavern might be transformed to facilitate decorate works. Lastly, the iconography that the cave would need to be determined and also communicated to every artists.

Note: at Lascaux, archeologists found sockets in the wall surfaces of the Apse, reflecting that a mechanism of scaffolding was specially built to paint the pictures on the ceiling.

Paint Pigments

The colour pigments supplied to decorated Lascaux, and also other French caves, to be all derived from locally easily accessible minerals. This explains why the ancient colour palette provided by Palaeolithic painters is relatively limited. It has black, every shades the red, to add a range of warmth colours, native dark brown come straw yellow. Just exceptionally were other colours created, such together the mauve colour that shows up on the "blazon" listed below the image of the great Black Cow in the Nave. Nearly all colours were derived from minerals, earth or charcoal. At Lascaux, because that instance, research shows that all the painted and drawn figures were painted v colours derived from powdered metallic oxides that iron and manganese. Steel oxides ( iron-rich clay ochre, haematite, goethite), provided for red and other warmth colours, were widely easily accessible in the Dordogne, when manganese was additionally common. In ~ Lascaux, curiously, the miscellaneous black shades used in paints were obtained nearly exclusively native manganese: carbon-based resources (such together wood, bone charcoal) have rarely been determined so far. By contrast, carbon-based black color pigments were used widely in the charcoal illustrations at Chauvet-Pont-d"Arc cave. For comparable works in Australia, see: Nawarla Gabarnmang charcoal drawing (c.26,000 BCE), Australia"s earliest carbon-dated parietal art.

Paint Brushes

Investigations in ~ Lascaux display that the artist did not use paint brushes thus, in all probability, the broad black outlines the the numbers were produced with mats, pads or swabs that moss or hair, or even with blobs of life colour. Evaluate by the number of hollow, colour-stained bones uncovered at Lascaux and also elsewhere, the larger painted locations were created using a type of ancient "spray-painting", with paint being blown with a pipe (made indigenous bone, lumber or reeds) onto the rock surface.

Drawing, Painting, sculpture Techniques

The three graphic approaches used by artists at Lascaux to be painting, drawing and also engraving. They to be used independently or in combination. Because that example, two methods were crucial to complete the great Black Bull, in Axial Gallery. The head and most that the body were sprayed, while an implement (mat, pad, swab) acting prefer a brush was provided to paint the upper part and the tail. Illustration was done through the exact same implements, but likewise with edged chunks that manganese or iron oxide.

Engraving, probably the most typical artistic technique used in ~ Lascaux, associated scratching far the outer layer the rock, which generates a difference in colour. The resulting "engraved line" looks similar to a drawing. In addition, more thick engraved present were periodically used to give added volume and relief to the outlines of animal figures.

Note: For various other prehistoric web page of rock engraving in France, see: Abri Castanet (35,000 BCE), Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures (26,500), Cussac cavern Engravings (25,000), Roucadour cavern Art (24,000 BCE), Le Placard cavern (17,500), Rouffignac cavern (14,000-12,000), and also Les Combarelles cave (12,000).

Meaning and Interpretation the Lascaux"s cavern Art

Are the pictographs and also petroglyphs at Lascaux merely "art for art"s sake"? It seems unlikely. The cavern art in ~ Lascaux has actually been very closely designed come convey some kind of story or message, quite than just created because it looks beautiful. To start with, why room only pets shown: why not trees and also mountains? Why ignore details very usual animals, favor reindeer? Why are certain areas the the cave much more heavily decorated than others? The dispute that Lascaux artists only painted things because they to be beautiful, can not answer these questions.

Another theory readily available as an interpretation of the rock Age arts at Lascaux is the so-called "sympathetic magic theory". Championed by Abbe Henri Breuil, one of the leading French scholars of ancient art, it cases that Lascaux artists created their drawings and also paintings of pets in an attempt to placed them under a spell and also thus accomplish dominance end them. In other words, artist painted pictures of injured bison in the hope that this form of primitive "visualization" can make the imagine scene actually happen. Unfortunately, this translate of Lascaux"s cavern art is not very convincing. First, there are many images that have no apparent link to searching (the swim horses, for instance, plus all the signs and also symbols). Second, in ~ Chauvet cave, in the Ardeche, very few if any type of of the pet pictures called to animals that were hunted: most were predators, choose lions.

Arguably the many convincing explanation for the cavern paintings in ~ Lascaux is the they were produced as component of part spiritual ritual. Follow to evaluation by the paleolithic scholar Leroi-Gourhan, Lascaux was a religious sanctuary provided for initiation ceremonies. That is seclusion and isolation would certainly make it suitable place to command this type of ritualistic ceremony. Furthermore, this explanation is consistent with the truth that some chambers at Lascaux are more heavily decorated 보다 others, implying that specific areas (like the Apse) were especially sacred. The concept is additionally supported by a number of footprint studies, showing that basically all the footprints in the cave were left through adolescents: a typical category of initiates.

One point that stays unexplained by any kind of of these theories is why Lascaux (and most other paleolithic caves) consists of no sculpture. That is worth remembering that by 17,000 BCE, venus figurines and other develops of primitive sculpture to be being made throughout Europe. Why no in caves?

Related Articles

• Altamira cave Paintings (from 34,000 BCE) Glorious paints of bison plus very ancient summary signs.

• Gargas cavern Hand Stencils (25,000 BCE) Renowned because that its collages the mutilated hand stencils.

• lid Blanc Frieze (15,000 BCE) Contemporaneous with Lascaux, cap Blanc absent shelter contains a stunning 13-metre long frieze, the ideal example the Magdalenian rock carving.

• Tuc d"Audoubert cave Bison (c.13,500 BCE) Renowned because that its bison reliefs and also abstract symbols.

• Trois Freres cavern (13,000 BCE) famed for an engraved illustration known together the "Sorcerer".

• Roc-aux-Sorciers (c.12,000 BCE) Contains an exceptional frieze the relief sculpture.

• Niaux cave (12,000 BCE) renowned for the "Salon Noir" and also a rarely charcoal drawing of a weasel.

• because that the origins of painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.

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