Hall of Bulls


The Hall of the Bulls is hundreds of feet deep in a cave in Lascaux, France. It is one of the most interesting and varied of Paleolithic cave paintings. There aren’t only bulls depicted, despite the name. (Maybe art historians aren’t very good at naming things. First the non-Goddess Venus of Willendorf and now a hall of not-all-bulls.) The paintings are believed to have been completed between 15,000 and 13,000 BCE.

Some of the animals are created in outline and some in silhouette, which will remain an artistic standard through the time of the Greeks. Another interesting concept shown in these cave drawings is “twisted perspective.” This artistic convention was popular amongst many different civilization for a good long while.

Twisted perspective is when artists show a body from various angles. For example, since the most telling features of the bull are its body shape and it’s horns, the artist shows the bull from the side, but also makes sure the horns are “twisted” so the viewer sees both instead of just one horn. It is “descriptive” rather than “optical,” or seen from one viewpoint.

Otherwise this might be the Hall of Unicorns.

This is the same concept the Sumerians and Egyptians used in their artwork and writings. The human body is almost always shown in profile at the legs, then the torso is twisted to face the viewer frontally, and the head, again, is in profile. It describes all the important parts that make a human body, well, human.

Most Paleolithic paintings use this twisted perspective, but not all. (Maybe that’s why there are stories of unicorns!)

Ok, enough with the unicorns. Sorry.

Art historians believe that the difference in techniques, outline versus silhouettes, means the different animals were drawn at different times and possibly different artists. They don’t believe the overlapping animals were meant to illustrate a herd of moving animals, they’re just various records of different animals.

Some experts think Paleolithic man painted animals on cave walls to try and bring the animals under their control for hunting purposes. Other scholars believe man painted the animals to ensure the animals’ survival. However, many of the animals portrayed were not staples in early man’s diet. A third theory is that man believed he had animal ancestors (evolution, perhaps!), but none of these theories can be proven and the different types and compositions of paintings almost ensures that they aren’t all painted for the same purpose. Since there are no written records, as writing is yet to be invented, no one can be sure of the artists’ intentions.

My thoughts? Well, I’m not nearly as taken with the Hall of Bulls as I was with the Venus of Willendorf. The bull on the right is majestic and I like him, but it is a hall… of animals. I’m sure it’s quite breathtaking in person to see all these animals drawn all over the cave walls, but I think it might just be a representation of the animals in man’s surroundings. Maybe they painted them because they were hunted and also feared for their power — not magical powers, but just pure animalistic strength. Maybe they really did believe there were animal ancestors — it wouldn’t be completely off the wall for ancient man to think “I’m alive, that animal is alive, so we are alike.”

A hall. Of bulls (and friends).


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