Lascaux Cave: The Prehistoric Sistine Chapel

By | November 29, 2018

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The cave of Lascaux in the Dordogne, discovered in 1940 and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, are masterpieces of parietal art. To protect the paintings, the cave has been closed since 1963. (Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty images)

In the southwest corner of France, there is an impressive cave complex, the Lascaux Caves, that wasn’t discovered until about 78 years ago. When 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat and his friends, Simon Coencas, Georges Agnel, and Jacques Marsal, entered the cave system on September 12, 1940, they were stunned to see thousands of prehistoric cave drawings painted on the rock walls. It turns out that the Lascaux Caves are home to some of best Paleolithic cave art ever found. And a lot of it, too. It seems that sometime about 17,000 years ago, a prolific artist or group of artists adorned much of Lascaux Caves with their work, leading the caves to have been dubbed the Prehistoric Sistine Chapel. Let’s look at some of the astonishing art that has been found in the cave. 

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Horses Were a Favorite Subject Matter

The vast majority of the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux are animals. These are so detailed and so well-painted that it is easy to clearly identify the species. Of the 900-plus animal drawings, about one-third is of horses. Horses seemed to be one of the favorite subjects for the ancient artists. The vast majority of the horses are painted in action, running or walking.