Paris, France —Prehistory left behind no written records that we know of, but the men and women that peopled that world did leave behind something much more spectacular: works of art in the form of engravings representing animals, rituals and what appear to be depictions of goddesses. This is Prehistoric art and it is being played out in an extensive and intriguing exhibition at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, the French national museum devoted to humans and their anthropology, history and culture. While Prehistory and the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age date back perhaps some three million years, the oldest objects and works of art in the exhibition, which is entitled Arts and Prehistory, are some 40,000 years old.
Left: The Venus of Lespugue. This is a marvel of the Gravettien period of Prehistoric art in Europe. Sculpted in mammoth ivory, it depicts the figure of a woman with bulky shapes. The statue was discovered in 1922 in the Grotto of Rideaux in Lespugue, France. It is dated between 25,000 to 28,000 years ago. Photo:©MNHN – J.-C. Domenech. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette. Right: The Immodest Venus discovered in the Dordogne region of France at Eyzies-de-Tayac in 1863 by the Marquis Paul de Vibraye. She is sculpted in mammoth ivory and dates back to the middle Magdalenian period between 16,000 and 17,000 years ago. Photo:©MNHN – J.-C. Domenech. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette
The Venus of Lespugue. This is a marvel of the Gravettien period of Prehistoric art in Europe. Sculpted in mammoth ivory, it depicts the figure of a woman with bulky shapes. The statue was discovered in 1922 in the Grotto of Rideaux in Lespugue, France. It is dated between 25,000 to 28,000 years ago. Photo:©MNHN – J.-C. Domenech. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette.
Mankind began painting and sculpting all over the planet as reproductions of cave walls and objects on the display in the exhibition demonstrate. But why did they do it: rituals for the hunt, magical rites or just humankind’s need to create? These are questions the show asks and the answers to them are far from obvious or unanimous. But what is evident is that they carefully chose their mediums, cave walls and objects, pieces of stone and their techniques. The study of prehistoric art is a relatively young discipline, dating from the end of the 19th century. Just over 100 years ago in November of 1922, the Venus of Lespugue was discovered and it is a centerpiece and one of the masterpieces of the exhibition. Timeless, it represents a kind of ideal woman or perhaps a primitive goddess. Cave drawings bring us into the lore and the glamorous lure of Prehistoric art. There are the great aurochs of Lascaux in France and what could possibly be a unicorn. The arts of Prehistory abound from the grottoes of France to the cliffs of Huashan in China to the canyons of Utah and beyond.
The exhibition rolls out in three different spaces, the first is devoted to sculpted, engraved or painted objects with the main mediums being ivory, rocks, bone or deer antler. Here one finds the precious Venus of Lespugue, a reference to the place where it was found in southwestern France. The second part offers a journey into the painted cave walls and rocks from all over the world through films, photographs, audiovisual installations and interactive stations. While the third part of the show pays tribute to the Venus of Lespugue, one of the Musée de l’Homme’s most precious objects, through contemporary interpretations that were inspired by the Prehistoric Venuses by well-known artists like Yves Klein, Louise Bourgeois and Brassaï. Another exhibition is just across the way juxtaposing Prehistoric works with those of Pablo Picassso, part of the events revolving around the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death, and demonstrating the influence of Paleolithic art on Picasso.
The Art and Prehistory show underscores the close relationship between humans and nature, particularly wild animals, a host of which are depicted in the various objects on display. Rare are depictions of human faces although the exhibition opens with a simple piece of limestone upon which a face was engraved some 17,000 years ago. What astonishes is that so many of the mobile objects — so-called because they can be transported — have survived to this day like objects depicting the wooly mammoth and even a grasshopper found in a grotto in the Pyrenees mountains. Animals, too, are popular features in cave and wall painting in Prehistory: horses in Europe, antilopes in South Africa, whales in Korea and elephants in Libya for example.
The exhibition draws on the extensive collection of the Musée de l’Homme which has some 700,000 objects from Prehistory and the Paleolithic and has contributed greatly to research into this period. The exhibition also benefits from exceptional loans from major institutions throughout the world. Conferences, guided visits and workshops related to Prehistory and the Paleolithic are all on the agenda. Art and Prehistory until May 22nd. Picasso and Prehistory until June 12th. ©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette. https://www.museedelhomme.fr/en
Categories: Everything Gourmet, Gourmet Fair
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