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Lascaux IV: The Future of the Paleolithic

Lascaux IV: The Future of the Paleolithic

13 Nov 2015 BY Tim Wells

The glittering jewel in the crown of Paleolithic cave painting is the Grotte de Lascaux, near Montignac-sur-Vézère in the Dordogne, hailed as the “Sistine Chapel of prehistoric times” by the famous French anthropologist, the Abbé Henri Breuil. The story of its discovery in 1940 is well known; it was opened to the public in 1948, and over the next decade and a half, a million visitors were privileged to examine the two thousand separate images of prehistoric animals, geometric designs, and the one solitary human form that burst forth from the walls of the caves, in glorious earthen hues and alive with a movement and perspective not seen again until the 16th century.

The forced closure of the cave in 1963 led to the creation of “Lascaux II”, a facsimile cave site buried into the same hillside, and presenting exquisitely-rendered reproductions of nearly 90% of the original cave’s artwork from the two main chambers, the Hall of the Bulls and the Axial Gallery. Lascaux II opened in 1983, after eleven years of painstaking work using the most modern computerized photographic methods and construction coupled with polychrome painting techniques and materials that would have been used 17,000 years ago. Since its opening, ten million visitors have marvelled at the paintings and enjoyed the informative commentary that accompanies the guided tours.

For those who have not managed the trip to the Dordogne, the travelling exhibition “Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux”, was launched in October 2012, opening in Bordeaux. Dubbed “Lascaux III”, it features state-of-the-art computer animations and digital imaging techniques, with interactive scenography peeling away the successive layers of paint to demonstrate how the images were created over time. It presents images never seen outside the original caves: five panels from two additional chambers – The Nave and The Shaft, including the glorious “Frieze of the Swimming Deer”. From Bordeaux the exhibition moved across the pond to museums in Chicago, Houston, and Montréal, before returning to Europe in Brussels, November 2014, and back home to France for a residency at the Parc des Expositions, Paris, from May through August 2015. It has now just opened at the Palexpo in Geneva, where it will be on display until January next year, before an extended tour of the Far East.

The next phase in the life of the Grotte de Lascaux was announced in 2010, the 70th anniversary year of the original Lascaux cave’s discovery. “Lascaux IV”, more formally known as the Montignac-Lascaux International Centre of Parietal Art (CIAP) represents the next step in promoting this unique UNESCO-heritage site. From the Entrance foyer, with projected movie images of the verdant landscape of the Paleolithic forest, setting the scene for the cave’s discovery by four young lads and their dog, to the ongoing exhibition of modern art inspired by cave painting, the Centre will be a feast for the eyes and imagination.  Almost the entirety of the original cave’s six main areas is represented in facsimile, and visitors are guided into the series of chambers with the help of hand-held interactive “torches” offering information about the cave and its history, and will be allowed to contemplate the artwork at leisure.

Set into the hillside on the border of the Vézère Valley and the hill of Lascaux, the CIAP will assume a sober architectural form, evoking the stark monolithic atmosphere of the world of Paleolithic cave dwellings. In addition to the reproductions of the wall paintings, there are exhibits of the archaeologist’s tools and methods, hands-on exhibits of prehistoric art materials and methods, a scale-model of the entire Lascaux cave system, and much more. The CIAP is scheduled to open in 2016, and promises to be the definitive presentation of this supreme example of mankind’s oldest art form. Until Lascaux V comes along, of course.

Lascaux 1

Lascaux 3

Lascaux 4