Art in Unusual Places

By | November 14, 2018

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Bison found in the Cave of Altamira

While canvas may now be considered the most common surface for painting, artists did not begin using it until the 15th Century. In the more distant past, artists had to be a bit more creative in choosing a location for their masterpieces.

Our oldest ancestors created paintings on cave walls using dirt or charcoal mixed with animal fat as their paint. This was an odd choice as early man was nomadic and would, therefore, be forced to leave the paintings behind when it was time to move on. However, their options were limited as paper had not yet been invented. It is also likely that the paintings served a purpose other than decoration. While we may not be able to ascertain their true purpose, there are several theories of what it might be. One theory regarding the paintings of animals such as the one in the above image is that they believed painting the animal was a way to capture their spirit and would make them easier to hunt. Other theories suggest the paintings were a means of communication as well as a way to preserve their history.

But the nomads were not the only ones to paint in dark places, where no living soul was likely to see it.

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Painting found in the tomb of Hetpet

Even stranger than painting a cave wall is the idea of painting the wall of a tomb, considering the intended inhabitant is deceased and unable to appreciate the effort. However, this is exactly what the ancient Egyptians did. Like the cave paintings of the nomads, the tomb paintings of ancient Egypt served a purpose beyond the aesthetic. The Egyptians believed that the function of the tomb was to transport the soul to the afterlife. As a result, many of the paintings were actually narratives to guide the deceased through the underworld. The paintings, like the one above which was found in the tomb of Hetpet, often depicted the deceased living a happy and fulfilled life. They believed the soul could draw on these images in the afterlife to satisfy their needs and ensure a contented eternity.

The ancient Egyptians are not known solely for painting in tombs; they are also credited with the discovery of glass. However, the first civilization to begin the art of staining glass is unknown.