Sunday, September 7, 2014

Chauvet Cave

Today I decided to talk about the paintings of Chauvet Cave.  These paintings are estimated to be about 30,000 years old and are among the oldest known art, and were the subject of Werner Herzog's documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.  Like many cave paintings, most of the images are of animals, but the cave also contains the oldest known painting of human representation, a pair of legs of a Venus figure (the second image).  The examples I chose are just a few of the scenes depicted on the walls of this cave system.  First we can see a pair of rhinoceros, in one of which we can actually see movement portrayed by all those extra lines that seem to be echoes of the animal.  Next there is an exquisitely rendered bison, then the pair of legs I mentioned that seem to be attached to a bull head.  The fourth image is a large group of lions and bears, then a group of horses with another pair rhinoceros facing (or perhaps fighting) each other and a pair of aurochs on the left.  We cannot say whether these paintings served a ritual purpose, perhaps intended to ensure successful hunts, or simply depicted things the artists saw.  Maybe they were for expression, the same way art has been for thousands of years since.  Whatever the intention, it is clear that visual art plays a deep, crucial role in our lives and our psyches.  These paintings, and others as well as early sculpture, far predate any written art of records.  The ability to create images to express what we see, think, and feel, is a central human endeavor, that has been with us since the earliest days of our species.

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