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Topic: Grotte Chauvet - a question on Werner Herzog's Film

Upon watching CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS I am wondering why among these over 400 beautiful paintings in the cage with its 470 animals only a single human shape can be found. this human shape is the lower half of a female body as it morphs into or is mounted by a bison. it is not entirely clear what the picture depicts, partially because the painting is not completely visible. Herzog mentions the fact that all other depictions are animals but does not pose the question why.

Strange - would it not be the obvious question coming to mind? why did paläolitic man not paint himself? in one scene of the movie, Herzog and some scientists discuss the role of torches and the shadows they make for viewing the paintings. it is mentioned that the torches would create vivid shadows of the painters and possible beholders on the walls and the paintings. There are also frequent speculations about possible cult activities in the cave.

My theory is that the paintings should be seen as sets rather than paintings. Could it be that, the reason why no humans are depicted lies in the fact that the humans used to perform in front of the walls merging their shadows or their bodies with the paintings? if paläolithic man lived a life in close and permanent (and often lethal) contact with animals, it seems logical, that this contact would be the topic of artistic expression. Many of the animal scenes are lively, kinetic, full of movement and depicting hunting or chasing scenes. it seems logical that man would see himself in these scenes.

This could mean two things: either paläolithic man created these images to perform in front of them on specific occasions, maybe with an audience watching. in that case the paintings are not as important as the performance, or let's say they serve the performance, like theater sets would.
or, and that is the other speculation, looking at these paintings meant to the beholders to bring themselves into the painting. they might not have known another way of seeing paintings then by bringing their own body or their own image (as shadow, as the shape of the person in front of them) into them. That would mean, that these paintings depicted scenes of human-animal-encounters, but that there was no need to paint the human shape as it would be inevitably present in the moment of beholding. The painting would always be incomplete, not like a theater set, but more like a mirror without anybody looking into it.

In a way this hints to an active beholder position, where the one looking is always the one completing the picture and acting in it. Half of the painting is in front of the wall!

The other explanation could be that men at that era only depicted themselves as animals, or at least as mixed creatures. Yet females were depicted as female humans, even though i am not sure whether we can really speak of figuration in the common sense here. the venuses could also have been abstract concepts, or goddesses instead of figurations of concrete (or even generic) humans. there is a single example of a male figuration from that era in the film, and that is a little sculpture half jaguar-half man. But even if that was true, if humans were only depicted as animals or half animals - why is that so? what is the reason behind that? why should animals have been so much more fascinating to humans than their own kind? did they not see other humans as their own kind? did they think of themselves as animals? hard to imagine!

http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?tit … 0605095136