Paleolithic Art

The Paleolithic art refers to the beginning of art history and the oldest artistic production of which are known. The art of this period is situated in Prehistory , in the Paleolithic (Stone Age Chipped), and began about two million years ago and extends to c. 8000 BC

Paleolithic is one of the three periods of the Stone Age , which is followed by the Mesolithic and, later, the Neolithic (Stone Age Polished), and which is situated, from a geological point of view , in the Ice Age , more precisely in the Pleistocene .

Only at the beginning of the 20th century did the first discoveries of prehistoric findings be made and the first reaction of the specialist class was that of skepticism regarding the apparent artistic maturity at such an embryonic level of human history. Until then it was considered that the first artistic seed would have been sown in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia . Although doubts still persist today as to the effective objective of Paleolithic art pieces, the truth is that the quality and creativity they reveal are undeniable and extremely important for understanding the mentality of Man.

In this period, carved stone instruments, decoration of objects, jewelry for different parts of the body were made, small statuary representing the female figure or animals, reliefs and parietal paintings with a hunting theme and isolated figures of animals or hunters.

Context [ edit | edit source code ]

Main article: Paleolithic

Axes, Acheulense , Saint Acheul .

In general, and to facilitate the characterization of art in such a long period of time, the Paleolithic is divided into three other sub-periods:

  • Lower Paleolithic (2,500,000 – 2,000,000 up to 120,000 – 100,000 BC),
  • Middle Paleolithic (300,000 – 200,000 up to 40,000 – 30,000 BC),
  • Upper Paleolithic (40,000 – 30,000 up to 10,000 – 8,000 BC).

It is considered that it is in the last period (Upper Paleolithic) that Man takes the most significant step in conscious artistic production, as a result of a spiritual need . However, it is possible that this level is the culmination of a long process of artistic and technical maturation, and that much of what was created in previous times simply did not survive until today. For this reason, there are still many unknowns and open questions, one can only speculate on what would be the real artistic motivations of prehistoric Man.

For a closer approach to the first artistic creations, it is essential to relate them to their cultural , geographical and social background . Inseparable from his environment , which is not always conducive to human life, man is extremely influenced by him, leading his decisions (travel to other places, etc.) to be dictated by conditions and natural factors . That the themes of Paleolithic art focus, above all, on elements of their environment (such as the animal kingdom , mainly the target of their hunting – herds of reindeer from the plains and valleys) appears as a logical consequence.

Cultural influences and regional specificities [ edit | edit source code ]

During the first two Paleolithic periods (Lower and Middle) the area of ​​human occupation will be reduced to Africa , Asia and Europe . The archaeological find par excellence is the artifact carved in stone (axes, etc.), which has been improving technically throughout Prehistory, and which already transmits a certain aesthetic concern for the search for symmetry .

Although there are specific characteristics of each region, there is, at the same time, a certain unity between the findings, a unit that mirrors the existence of contacts between different groups from different regions (eg the widespread use of red ).

From the Middle Paleolithic there is a ” cut ” in the continuity of cultural influence between the continents, in which Africa (except the north) and Asia follow paths different from that of Europe. During the Upper Paleolithic, when Homo sapiens appears in the place of the Neanderthal , there is an extension of the area of ​​human occupation to America and Australia , made possible by the reduction of sea level (glacier season) and the consequent appearance of ground ” bridges ” connecting to those continents.

American archaeological finds clearly denote its origins in East Asia, but they also end up evolving to their own characteristics. However, little is allowed to be reconstructed of the artistic production of this continent during the Paleolithic period due to the limited archaeological information available. When the natural connection to Australia ceases to exist, the communication of other peoples established until then with this continent takes the same path, and the isolation that follows results in the “ impoverishment ” of the culture present there.

It is for these diverse factors that Europe and India are the regions that offer, until now, the best testimonies of the study of Paleolithic culture, from which one can better understand the interpretation that Paleolithic Man makes of his world. In France and northern Spainone can see the richest specimens of rock painting, on the basis of which one can affirm the existence of an important artistic flourishing in these areas. Even so, it becomes difficult to determine whether the origin of the process of human awareness has taken place here and, consequently, its artistic evolution has started here. The actual area of ​​the findings at the world level cannot be understood as definitive, since the preservation of the works depends a lot on the good conditions of the places where they were created.

The moment of transition [ edit | edit source code ]

Hand outline in the cave of Pech Merle , France .

After the beginning of the manual production of objects, the first signs of decoration began to appear, but only in the Upper Paleolithium did the first attempts to transpose something real to a certain medium. This requires careful observation of the surrounding nature and the perception that it is possible to reproduce the visible world through a new method.

This method implies capturing reality and, in the case of painting and relief , the transition from three-dimensionality to a two-dimensional plane that results, initially, in representations of great naturalism and realism. Man also makes use of rocks or pieces of bone or wood that resemble a certain animal, taking advantage of this association and the pre-existing characteristics of the support to create a sculpture or relief (sometimes also associating painting).

Man understands that art allows him to have a closer relationship with nature and that he himself can use his representation to exert influence on the world around him. Through the image, the factors essential to its existence can be mastered and Man can reveal the experiences of his senses. Later, when he begins to reflect on himself and the surrounding world, he progressively starts to represent idealized images , instead of simply observed images . From this moment on, it began to get closer and closer to the synthesis of the elements and their symbolic schematisation (as in the case of female figurines where the characteristics of femininity are highlighted in simple lines).

Approaches to the aim of art [ edit | edit source code ]

In general, the most defended hypothesis about the goal of Paleolithic art is that the first objects of art were not utilitarian or adornments, but an attempt to control supernatural forces and, according to archeologists speculate , to obtain the sympathy of the gods and good hunting results . Considering that the paintings discovered in caves are found in places of difficult access, and not at the entrance to the eyes of everyone, it can be assumed that the aim is not to provide an impressive image accessible to the whole group, art for art , but rather follow a magic ritual. Thus, the aesthetic result (of great naturalism) will be nothing more than a secondary consequence of the main objective. In any case, the hypothesis of a conscious aesthetic objective cannot be totally eliminated.

Perhaps there was a fine dividing line between reality and representation and that, when painting an animal, it was necessary to recreate it as realistically as possible, so that the successful hunt in painting would be transported to reality, or even that the pictorial creation of a herd resulted in their real creation, and that Man could thus benefit from much food and prosperity. In the same way, it is believed that the small female figurines are amulets related to the cult of fertility, a crucial factor for the survival of the group.

However, a caveat is important: we need to weigh the actions of man, in this case in the field of representation in images, as not strictly linked to religious representations or to a trancedental search for “something bigger”. Just like a child who plays with colored pencils and paper with shapes and colors in a playful way, we cannot dismiss Paleolithic art as a playful activity, discovering forms without greater pretensions.

Venus [ edit | edit source code ]

See also: List of Venus statuettes

Paleolithic sculpture is famous for small female figurines generically called venus . Identified as possible idols for the cult of fertility and sexuality, these figures have similar characteristics; they are represented naked, standing and reveal the most representative elements of the female body in exacerbated lines. The exaggeration of these elements translates into a voluminous chest, belly and hips as opposed to delicate arms and legs and a small head. The face, treated with simple lines reduced to the essential, where it is not possible to recognize individual features, becomes, over time, an increasingly stylized and symbolic element, as well as the entire body of the figure.

These idols appear for the first time during the Paleolithic and are the origin of the idols of the cycladic art of 2000 BC . The oldest known figurine is the Venus of Tan-Tan found in Morocco from the Acheulian period and 6 cm high. Among the oldest, 30,000 years old, are the Venus found in Europe, in the Danube area , such as the Venus de Willendorf ( Austria ), the Dame de Sireuil ( France ), the Woman with the Horn of Bison (relief in the rock, France) of realistic forms, or the Venus of Vĕstonice( Czech Republic ) of stylized shapes.

Paleolithic painting [ edit | edit source code ]

Main article: Rock painting

In the Upper Paleolithic period, the first paintings were made in caves and external stone walls , approximately 15,000 years ago. The representation of various animals ( horses , mammoths , oxen , deer ) is common, as can be seen in the Lascaux cave , France – an archaeological site discovered in 1940 .

Taking advantage of the natural irregularities of the stones, the paleolithic man arrives, with his paintings, close to the real forms of nature. For his work, he uses various materials such as coal , earth and blood , as well as brushes and hollow bone as a wind instrument (eg to spray the outline of the hand, obtaining a negative).

Other important cave paintings were discovered in the cave of Altamira , Spain , by Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola . In Altamira there are paintings on the walls and on the ceiling of the cave, which are still considered today one of the greatest discoveries in the history of art .


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