One of the earliest known equestrian paintings


The caves which have sheltered this, and many other primitive Paleolithic paintings for around 17,300 years, was first re-discovered in the 1940s at Lascaux in the Dordogne region of France. These days the caves are closed to the public in an effort to protect the images from damage caused by strong lights, moisture and mould. We are fortunate, however to have good quality photographs of these early works, and it is amazing how brilliantly the primitive artists captured movement and speed with a few simple marks daubed on a cave wall using little more than fingers, sticks, and home-made pigments.

The cave contains nearly 6,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories: animals, human figures, and abstract signs. The paintings contain no images of the surrounding landscape or the vegetation of the time. Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using red, yellow, and black colours from a complex multiplicity of mineral pigments including iron compounds such as iron oxide (ochre), hematite, and goethite, as well as manganese-containing pigments.
Charcoal may also have been used but seemingly to a sparing extent. On some of the cave walls, the colour may have been applied as a suspension of pigment in either animal fat or calcium-rich cave groundwater or clay, making paint, that was swabbed or blotted on, rather than applied by brush. In other areas, the colour was applied by spraying the pigments by blowing the mixture through a tube. Where the rock surface is softer, some designs have been incised into the stone. Many images are too faint to discern, and others have deteriorated entirely.

Over 900 can be identified as animals, and 605 of these have been precisely identified. Out of these images, there are 364 paintings of equines as well as 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle and bison, each representing 4 to 5% of the images. A smattering of other images include seven felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists. Geometric images have also been found on the walls.

"The cave painters : probing the mysteries of the world's first artists" by Gregory Curtis