Cave paintings from Chauvet
Cave paintings from Chauvet
At night, on 18 December 1994, three speleologists became the first people in 20,000 years to set foot in one of the worlds perhaps most beautifully decorated caves in a nature reserve in the south-east of France.

At first, they were spellbound by all the beautiful orange and white stalactites. Then, they found bones from cave bears and when the light from their lamps suddenly fell on the walls they discovered the biggest and most beautiful and moving cave paintings ever found.

They saw long and coherent cave paintings depicting horses, rhinos, lions, aurochs and mammoths, images of bears, owls, European bison, hyenas, panthers and other animals painted in red ochre, charcoal or engraved. A large number of the motifs had never been seen before in the caves in Ardéche.

Tests have later on determined that the oldest drawings are 35,000 years old +/-.

One of the longest coherent cave paintings of the wild horses is more the 10 metres long.

In addition to drawings of a large number of horses, the cave painting consists of drawings of e.g. rhinos, aurochs, lions, European bison and bears. All images have been made using charcoal. The contour of the wall has been employed to create an illusion of movement, relief and perspective.

The drawings of the horses are fabulous in particular with a remarkable sense of realism and detail: pupils, nostrils and half-open muzzles. Shadows that give the effect and power and strength.

The bottom part of the cave painting depicts two rhinos. The rhino on the left is approx. one metre and has a height of ½ metre and is the largest animal on the frieze. By means of finger rubbing, the artist has created a grey belt around the stomach of the rhino. The rhinos are facing each other – prepared for battle or love?

The right side of the cave painting is composed of three calm-looking wild horses with heavy manes and shadows to create relief. The horses are also in the company of two lions. An earlier drawing below the horses illustrates a large lion, possibly sniffing the other lion. Both lions are depicted with incredible detail as e.g. eye brows, shadows outlined around the eyes, nostrils and whiskers.

The cave bears are depicted a large number of times in beautiful figures outlined with shadows.

A capricorn with long sturdy horns, an old goat with stretched out legs as if it were climbing up a crack in the wall.

An extraordinary seven or eight-legged bison to create perspective or to indicate a running movement.

A powerful and large rhino drawn in a niche with an enormous horn following the curves of the wall.

The head is lowered, the back is arched, the mouth is slightly open, and the ears are raised – is the animal ready to charge forward from its hiding and attack another animal or human being, the artist perhaps?

One of the chambers contains several palm prints. In other places, at friezes or pictures, complete or stencilled prints of the entire hand can be seen. All prints represent the right hand and are possibly the signature of the artist.

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