The Cave Art Paintings of the Lascaux Cave (ca. 20,000 b.c.)
Lascaux centre in Dordogne
More than 50 years after the Lascaux caves in southwestern France were closed to the public, a new exhibition has opened. Lascaux 4, a spectacular replica of France’s most celebrated cave art using interactive guides and multi-screen displays, opened on 15 December, 2016. The new International Cave Art Centre is located in Montignac, Dordogne, in the southweste region of France.
French President Francois Hollande Visits Lascaux 4
The International Cave Art Centre in the Dordogne, which celebrates the prehistoric art discovered in 1940 known as Lascaux, was inaugurated by President Hollande on December10, 2016. The €57million centre sits at the foot of the hill where the original cave was found and is built of glass and grey striated concrete – though it also features a replica of the grotto that a teenager, Marcel Ravidat, and his black-and-white mongrel, Robot, stumbled upon 76 years ago. There are 8,500 square metres of visitor space at what has been dubbed Lascaux 4, along with four exhibition rooms that are linked via indoor and outdoor paths and explore the region’s prehistory using the latest technology. Designed by Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta, the idea was to combine light and opacity in this “incision in the landscape” where dark passageways lead into giant halls. Each visitor has a digital compagnon de visite that looks as if it has been hewn out of slate, Flintstones-style: a mini touchpad with headphones means visitors can roam freely in the workshops, galleries and exhibition spaces; though in the replica cave there is an expert guide.
Artists at Work on the Cave Art Replica at the International Cave Art Centre
The actual cave discovered by Ravidat, and later explored by him and three of his friends, has been closed to the public for more than 50 years, since it was discovered that merely breathing in the caves was destroying them. A replica (known as Lascaux 2) was opened 200 metres away from the new centre in 1983, but there were concerns that too many visitors on top of the hill were affecting the original cave. Now that it is being superseded by this high-tech cousin, Lascaux 2 will be listed as a French historical monument.
“The idea is to have the two centres running together, with perhaps Lascaux 2 as a focus for school art projects,” says Guillaume Colombo, director of the development. In terms of visitor numbers, Lascaux 2 is the most popular prehistoric cave in the world, while Lascaux 3 – an 800 sq m kit-form mobile exhibition, made by Périgord’s facsimile workshop, the AFSP – has been travelling the globe since 2012. It is currently in Japan. Colombo expects around 400,000 visitors a year to Lascaux 4. Fans of prehistory are spoiled in this area of France. The Vézère valley has 147 prehistoric sites, 15 of which are on Unesco’s world heritage list. However, there is nothing to match Lascaux in terms of colour, size, quality and quantity of the images, a cave dubbed by Abbé Breuil, a Catholic priest and the first expert to examine the walls, as the “Sistine chapel of prehistory”.
Exterior of the new Centre International d’Art Pariétal, Montignac
The centre’s tour begins on the Belvedere rooftop which is covered in vegetation and overlooks Montignac and the hill where the teenager discoverers used to play. A short film in the “digital shelter”, a silver-walled bunker with curved benches and a giant screen, transports visitors back to the Magdalenian period (17,000 to 12,000 years ago) with a tundra landscape, woolly rhinos, lions, bison, deer and Cro-Magnon man preparing pigments and tallow lamps to begin work on the cave walls.
Outside again, a soundtrack of Ravidat whistling for Robot floats through the woods before visitors re-enter the building through a sliding door and are suddenly inside the cave, staring up at the 15-metre scree that the boys slid down 76 years ago, half-imagining they may find a secret treasure chamber from the local château. In another clever attempt to improve the facsimile cave experience (only the replicas of the celebrated caves of Altamira in northern Spain and Chauvet in the Ardèche are now open to visitors).
Lascaux 4 has reproduced the temperature, air pressure, the damp smell and sounds of the cave from 1940. There is also a sense of the darkness beyond, which is absent from other replicas. The centre’s digital devices don’t work in the cave, “It’s a place for contemplation and discovery,” says a guide.
Tying Prehistoric Art with Astrology
The workshop next door has the most celebrated sections of the cave suspended from the ceiling, ultraviolet demonstrations of prehistoric engraving techniques and a display wall projecting archive documents and photographs. Man’s discovery and understanding of cave art is experienced in a theatrical, multimedia show where doors magically open at the end of each sequence. This leads into another dark auditorium for a 20-minute 3D film about Lascaux and art from other caves around the word with a voiceover seemingly coming from the depths of the grotto.
The last exhibition space is the Galerie de l’Imagination: a digital cave where giant touchscreens hang in floating columns and visitors can create their own personal exhibitions by combining modern art and cave art, which are then projected around the room. This can be viewed later on the Lascaux website, via a system activated by guests’ scanned entrance ticket. Digital photography, laser imaging and 3D-printing techniques have meant the Lascaux 4 facsimile is more an expert forgery than a copy. Around 50 artists and sculptors constructed the cave, reproducing 600 animal images and 400 signs and symbols. The AFSP used “stone-veil” techniques to fire natural materials onto walls. Lascaux 2 had no engravings and displayed only 40% of the cave but Lascaux 4 has managed to reproduce every last flicker: bison shedding their coats, stags’ lavish antlers, fighting ibex, aurochs, a hidden bear, scores of horses, herds during their mating seasons and a single, stick-figure, four-fingered man (with a bird’s head) in a deep pit off the main axial gallery.
Natural Stone Steps are used as an Entrance to the Original Cave
Lascaux is famous for its Palaeolithic cave paintings, found in a complex of caves in the Dordogne region of southwestern France, because of their exceptional quality, size, sophistication and antiquity. Estimated to be up to 20,000 years old, the paintings consist primarily of large animals, once native to the region. Lascaux is located in the Vézère Valley where many other decorated caves have been found since the beginning of the 20th century (for example Les Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume in 1901, Bernifal in 1902). Lascaux is a complex cave with several areas (Hall of the Bulls, Passage gallery) It was discovered on 12 September 1940 and given statutory historic monument protection in december of the same year. In 1979, several decorated caves of the Vézère Valley - including the Lascaux cave - were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. But these hauntingly beautiful prehistoric cave paintings are in peril. Recently, in Paris, over 200 archaeologists, anthropologists and other scientists gathered for an unprecedented symposium to discuss the plight of the priceless treasures of Lascaux, and to find a solution to preserve them for the future. The Symposium took place under the aegis of France's Ministry of Culture and Communication, and presided over by Dr. Jean Clottes.
Sections have been identified in the cave; the Great Hall of the Bulls, the Lateral Passage, the Shaft of the Dead Man, the Chamber of Engravings, the Painted Gallery, and the Chamber of Felines. The cave contains nearly 2,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories - animals, human figures and abstract signs. Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using mineral pigments although some designs have also been incised into the stone.
Of the animals, equines predominate . There are 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle, bison, felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. Among the most famous images are four huge, black bulls or aurochs in the Hall of the Bulls. One of the bulls is 17 feet (5.2 m) long - the largest animal discovered so far in cave art. Additionally, the bulls appear to be in motion. There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists. A painting referred to as 'The Crossed Bison', found in the chamber called the Nave, is often held as an example of the skill of the Palaeolithic cave painters. The crossed hind legs show the ability to use perspective. Since the year 2000, Lascaux has been beset with a fungus, variously blamed on a new air conditioning system that was installed in the caves, the use of high-powered lights, and the presence of too many visitors. As of 2006, the situation became even graver - the cave saw the growth of black mold. In January 2008, authorities closed the cave for three months, even to scientists and preservationists. A single individual was allowed to enter the cave for 20 minutes once a week to monitor climatic conditions.
From about 18,000 to 10,000 b.c., long before Stonehenge and the pyramids, back when mammoths and saber-toothed cats still roamed the earth, prehistoric people painted deep inside caves in what is today the Dordogne region of France. These cave paintings are huge and sophisticated projects executed by artists and supported by an impressive culture.