A grotto is defined as a cavern, cavity, chamber, den, hollow, rock shelter, subterranean, or underground chamber. Today, in our Blogging Through the Alphabet post, I am going to share about most recent art history lesson on the most wonderful cave art you have ever seen. This was my last Fine Arts Co-op presentation. I hope you enjoy it here. I loved putting it together.
Did you ever wonder when art began? Who were the first artists? We know from Scripture that Jubal was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. That was the beginning of music. We know that Tubal-cain was a forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. That was the beginning of all sorts of metal working and maybe art, but the Bible doesn’t say that specifically. But, we do know that God values a craftsman that makes beautiful things because He calls some of us to that calling. Not too long ago, our family learned about a relatively obscure biblical craftsman, or artist as we might call him today. His name was Bezalel. Now he was not the first artist, but he was one the Lord chose for the building and beautifying of His house, the Temple.
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. ” I think it is good, and important, to note that God gifts some of us with these special gifts and that we as His people, can enjoy the fruits of these artists’ labors. The worshipers at the Temple surely enjoyed the craftsmanship of Bezalel.
We don’t know who the very first artist was, but we know of some very ancient artwork. Today we are going to take a look at some of it. Maybe these people knew of the saving work of God. Maybe they sat around their campfires and talked of His salvation amongst themselves. Maybe even their grandparents knew those that went through the flood. It is something to think about as you look at these paintings. The Cave at Altamira in Northern Spain gives us some clues about the beginnings of art. It's clear that man has been making art for thousands of years.
The story of the discover of the Cave at Altamira has become a legend. Read about that here. Here is one of the bison close up.
On the ceiling of the cave were painted groups of animals in shades of black, brown, red, and yellow. There were bison, deer, horses, and wild boar. The outcroppings of the rock had been skillfully used to give the paintings depth and dimension. Some of the animals were life-size. All were amazingly realistic.
Look at the eye of one of the bison. The detail and the engraving to make the design is very detailed and realistic...
Prehistoric man? I don't think so, do you?
There are scientists that would say the artwork on these walls is 15,000 years old, but the dating methods they use are based on their belief that the earth did not go through a catastrophic global flood. I believe that Scripture teaches a global flood, and I believe that the evidence in the natural world supports this.
Radiocarbon dating is based on things staying always as they have been from the beginning of the earth until now. The Flood buried massive amounts of carbon from all the creatures and plants that covered the earth’s surface at the time. I believe this changes everything and calls into question all dates that science claims to know for certain. This artwork is very ancient though, and was probably done after the flood during the ice age that followed the global flood. There is a very good book that discusses this and shows how people quite likely lived and I have mentioned it before, Life in the Great Ice Age. (Here are some really good sample pictures from this book!)
Evolutionary belief says these people were the “first modern humans.” From the website linked above...
The Stone Age is also called the Paleolithic period in history. Most Paleolithic people were hunters and gatherers, lived in caves and temporary shelters, made stone tools, and used fire to keep warm and cook food. These people are sometimes called the first modern humans. They are also called Cro-Magnons, after the rock formation where their tools were first discovered. These people had no written language or alphabet, but as Altamira proves, they could communicate through paintings.
Now to me, those paintings don't look like they are from the "first modern humans" as if they have no skills or abilities. I completely disagree with this! The creative minds that made this beautiful artwork were made in the image of God.
This is such a beautiful personal part of this ancient artwork to me. Have you ever put your hand in paint or mud or even just water and made a mark on the sidewalk or on the side of your house? Handprints were created by blowing ochre mixed with water over a hand, leading to the effect shown here. What does it feel like to see this? Were these people all that different from us you think? Did they do this to leave their mark on the wall to be remembered? I wonder who they were.
The Hall of the Bulls (click to see the amazing huge cave painting) is a stunning place filled with artwork. Here, however, the animals are on a much larger scale. In the main gallery (...) two white bulls facing each other are over ten feet long! Other animals seen in the main hall at Lascaux are deer, horses, and a mysterious creature with two long horns that is called a unicorn. Like the paintings at Altamira, several colors have been used. Other paintings are outlined just in black. (Source.)
The mysterious painting, Bird Hunted Man, of the man, the bison, the spear or assegi, and the rhinoceros turning away has stumped art scholars for many years. Many theories about the meaning of the painting have been suggested.
One really interesting and mysterious thing to consider is the location of the painting. It is not in the main galleries, but well hidden, in a very hard-to-reach place. This cave, called the well, could only be reached by climbing down a narrow shaft. Why is this painting hidden in such a heart-to-reach place? What makes this secret location significant? There are other mysteries as well. Why does the man have a bird face? The bison is wounded and appears to be ready to charge. Or, perhaps he has just charged. The man has fallen. Is he dead? On top of the spear is a bird. This painting, unlike the others, seems composed as a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. But what does it mean? No one is sure. One theory is that the picture is symbolic, representing a death scene.
To be killed while hunting was a common event for these Stone Age people who did not have guns or sophisticated weapons. Other experts believe that their painting is part of some ancient ritual - possibly a ceremony to insure good hunting. The secret location of the painting would support this idea of a secret ceremony. As for the significance of the painting, there is no doubt it was important to the artists who created it.
I like the mystery here. I wonder what it really is.
So, cavemen. What about them? Were they what we think of when we think of them at all?
Let’s talk about the dates the historians are giving this cave and what they are saying about these artists. Some historians give is a date of 30,000 years ago and some say it is "only" 17,000. Though people who live in caves around the time this artwork was created (like those depicted in the book I mention above) are usually considered prehistoric, or before the period of written records, we know this isn’t true from Scripture. Since the sixth day of creation, man has existed with animals. In spite of all that archaeologists and anthropologists contend about these early Stone Age cultures and their long ages, it simply cannot be true that they were unskilled and incapable.
Why? Because the Bible speaks of the very earliest cultures as being highly civilized, with musical instruments, woven tents and clothes, metal working, animal husbandry, etc. (Genesis 4:3–4, 17–22). The fact that we find people in the very earliest times living in caves simply means that they lived in caves instead of houses. We find people around the world doing this very thing today. For instance, some families living along a 40 mile stretch of the Rhone River in France dwell in the caves that are situated there.
In Cappadocia, Turkey, almost every family living there has carved out a cave home from the strange formations. And there appear to have been cave dwellers in every generation since the beginning of time. Even Jesus was born in, lived in (His traditional home in Nazareth was partly a cave), was buried in, and was resurrected from a cave. (Source.)
I love the artistic beauty of this one. What do you think? What about this? This is one of my favorites because there are so many creatures depicted here:
This is a Megaloceros skeleton at the Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.
This is one on the walls of Lascaux.
I love it. Do you think it is interesting that the artist chose not to draw the whole animal? What does that say about your own artwork? Does everything have to be completed when you draw, paint, or sketch? What do you think of the antlers? My children thought they looked like fingers and I thought this looked like a Dr. Seuss character a little bit. Maybe he was inspired by Lascaux!
Since there are over 2,000 figures on these walls, they caves must be pretty big. I wonder how many years it took for the people to fill it. I wonder too, whether there was a special reason they did it. Don’t you?
This last link is the official Lascaux site. It is in French so it is a bit hard to navigate at first, but I found a full tour of the caves on this site and it is wonderful.
Enjoy your study of ancient cultures and their art and remember too that these were skilled and talented people. We have much to learn from them.