by Richard W. Wise,
Author: The Dawning: 31,000 BC
The walls at Bernifal and Lascaux and other caves are filled with engravings, including two engraved handprints not seen elsewhere. These are hard to photograph but show a mastery of line that could only have been obtained t much practice. The lines show a consistent flow, and the designs are repetitive in a given cave.
This suggests a training method similar to the grueling process required of students of Suma-e painting and Japanese calligraphy. The apprentice practices making the same brush stroke until its execution becomes ingrained and almost automatic. It is a technique difficult to master with a supple brush and much harder with a mineral crayon or a flint burin.
Beautiful, precise, highly stylized engravings of animals are also found as portable art. At the museum at Les Eyzes, there are s engraved bones and a particularly famous engraving known as the licking bison rendered on mammoth ivory (above image).
On our first day in Les Eyzes, we visited Abri du Cap Blanc, an excavated sheltered overhang that was once open to the weather. The site has since been enclosed. Here we saw the magnificent horse sculptures.
These are bas-reliefs carved out of solid rock. The medium is limestone, a relatively soft sedimentary rock with a hardness of 2-3 on the MOHS Scale. The sculpture was chipped away using flint tools. Flint occurs in limestone and measures 7.0 on the MOHS scale. These are large horses and bovids—life-size sculptures—polished and py. The relief is more or less lifelike except for the distended body shape, which is characteristic of the art of the Magdalenian Period.
Like Colorito, a technique characteristic of the Baroque Period and the Impressionist juxtaposition of primary hues, Paleolithic art can be broken down into artistic/technical conventions which define periods. For example, in paintings of bison, the head is shown in profile, but the horns are executed in a two-thirds view with the shoulders facing toward the viewer. Also, at Lascaux, we see the so-called "Chinese Horses" with their unnaturally small heads. These conventions are characteristic of the Magdalenian Period (13-17,000 BP), during which the great majority of the art was produced. The subject matter also changes.
During the earlier Aurignacian Period (43-26,000 BP) at Chauvet, the depictions concentrated on predators, lions, and bears. In the Magdalenian, the focus was on grazing animals; horses, aurochs, ibex, and bison. Horses dominate at Lascaux.
Next: The Beauties of Grotte Cougnac. Stay tuned.