As Europe begins opening as much as vacationers once more, it’s extra thrilling than ever to consider the cultural treasures that await. For me, one of many nice joys of journey is having in-person encounters with nice artwork and structure — which I’ve collected in a ebook known as Europe’s High 100 Masterpieces. Right here’s an historic favourite:
The caveman man cave at Lascaux is startling for the way fashionably it’s adorned. The partitions are painted with animals — bears, wolves, bulls, horses, deer, and cats — and even just a few animals that are actually extinct, like woolly mammoths. There’s scarcely a Homo sapiens in sight, however there are human handprints.
All this was performed through the Stone Age almost 20,000 years in the past, in what’s now southwest France. That’s about 4 instances as outdated as Stonehenge and Egypt’s pyramids, earlier than the appearance of writing, metalworking, and farming. The caves have been painted not by hulking, bushy-browed Neanderthals however by fully-formed Homo sapiens referred to as Cro-Magnons.
These will not be crude doodles with a charcoal-tipped stick. The cave work have been subtle, pricey, and time-consuming engineering tasks deliberate and executed in about 18,000 BC by devoted artists supported by a unified and secure tradition. First, they needed to haul all their supplies into a chilly, pitch-black, hard-to-access place. (They didn’t dwell in these deep limestone caverns.) The “canvas” was large—Lascaux’s important caverns are greater than a soccer area lengthy, and a few animals are depicted 16 ft tall. They erected scaffolding to achieve ceilings and excessive partitions. They floor up minerals with a mortar and pestle to combine the paints. They labored by the sunshine of torches and oil lamps. They ready the scene by laying out the determine’s main outlines with a connect-the-dots sequence of factors. Then these Cro-Magnon Michelangelos, balancing on scaffolding, created their Stone Age Sistine Chapels.
The work are impressively sensible. The artists used wavy black outlines to counsel an animal in movement. They used scores of various pigments to get a spread of colours. For his or her paint “brush,” they employed a type of sponge made out of animal pores and skin. In one other method, they’d draw the outlines, then fill it in with spray paint — blown by way of tubes made from hole bone.
Think about the debut. Viewers could be led deep into the cavern, guided by torchlight, into a chilly, echoing, and otherworldly chamber. Within the darkness, somebody would mild torches and lamps, and all of the sudden — whoosh! — the animals would flicker to life, showing to run across the cave, like a prehistoric film.
Why did these Stone Age folks — whose lives have been most likely harsh and precarious — trouble to create such an obvious luxurious as artwork? Nobody is aware of. Possibly as a result of, as hunters, they have been portray animals to magically improve the provision of recreation. Or maybe they thought if they might “grasp” the animal by portray it, they might later grasp it in battle. Did they worship the animals?
Or possibly the work are merely the results of the common human drive to create, and these caverns have been Europe’s first artwork galleries, bringing the primary vacationers. Whereas the caves are closed to at this time’s vacationers, rigorously produced duplicate caves adjoining give guests a vivid Stone Age expertise.
Right now, visiting Lascaux II and IV, as these duplicate caves are known as, means that you can share a typical expertise with a caveman. You might really feel a bond with these long-gone folks…or stand in awe at how totally different they have been from us. Finally, this artwork stays very like the human species itself — a thriller. And a surprise.