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What man certainly differs from animals is that he needs to express himselve in the language of art. 15,000 Years ago, during prehistoric times, he lived in caves and painted, drawed, engraved, he made images. The prehistoric paintings of the Altamira cave is called “the Sistine Chapel of stone art”, by the quality and beauty of his paintings. Picasso said “after Altamira is the rest of art just scribbles “, so this place was appreciated by him. www.pablopicasso.nl. Altamira is part of the “Franco – Cantabrian” school, it is one of the 400 caves characterized by the same style, the realism of the figures.

The cave of Altamira

The Altamira Cave is located in Cantabria, Northern Spain and is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, www.unesco.nl. She was discovered in 1868, when the still evolutionary theories of Darwin were not understood and were not accepted. The society was not willing to admit that these paintings were from the homo sapiens, original descendants of the apes. Just in 1902 the value was recognized. The Altamira cave was inhabited 22,000 years and abandoned in prehistoric times, for unknown reasons. 13,000 Years ago the entrance of the cave collapsed by natural reasons. The water caused a crust of stalagmites that the opening closed completely. The stable temperature and high humidity in the room, took care that the paintings well preserved. In the nineteenth century opened the cave by explosions from a nearby quarry and paintings were discovered by chance. www.cuevadealtamira.es

Prehistoric paintings

The cave was used 22,000 years and therefore we can find there the art realized during these years. There are 22,000 years of stone art, with works from different periods and styles. The cave is 270 meters deep and is divided into several rooms. At the entrance is the place where the homo sapiens lived. The prehistoric paintings have been found in the depths of the cave where the group made their rites.

Theme paintings

The performances are animals (deer, horses, goats, bison) hands, and geometric figures. The most famous and spectacular room is the “Great Room” with a group of 25 bisons.


The paintings are made ??on the stones. The author used the curves of the cliff to give their paintings an extra dimension. It seems polychrome images, but were used only two colors: 1) Black coal from a variety of pines. 2) Mineral red, iron oxide. The polychromatic effect is due to the translucence of the color of the stone between the red paint. Maybe that this effect was made by the artist, but maybe it’s the effect of the time by erosion. The tools used were silos, chisels, pieces of stones and their hands. The finger was wrapped around a piece animal skin to make long strokes, like a paintbrush. The dark cave was lit by lamps of animal fat and the author painted kneeling or lying down.

His working method

First, the contours of the animal were engraved on stone and then drawn with a black line of charcoal. This line is made ??in a single motion, errors were impossible to correct. Secondly, the surface was covered with red paint. Third, in some bison was charcoal detail of the hair or hump, horns, neck, drawn or her eyes. It is interesting that in order to define volumes in the body pieces were unpainted, left open. For example, the body parts can be distinguished, such as the leg of the abdomen. This is a very modern way of working.


It is thought that all bisons were performed by a single person, every animal has the same style. All drawings were made in the same battle, which begins and ends at the same place. In addition, the figures in the direction of the coat of the animal have been made and not against the chest. The artist must have been a man, because the drawing was made in one movement of the arm and waist of about 150cm wide, women were too small for that. It is remarkable that the artist painted bisons above other drawings, made 4,000 years earlier, red horses. www.museodealtamira.es

The significance of the prehistoric paintings

There are many theories about why these prehistoric paintings were made. But in any case, the image of man in his art from what is important to him. The bison is impressive, which is a powerful animal, produces admiration. It is possible that prehistoric people attributed this to a magical significance or vein, functions. Why art exists is because it is an expression of us, of what we are and what interests us. The art identifies us and make a difference with other groups. It shows our culture, our beliefs, our feelings. Tells about who we are and our transcendent ideas. It is impossible to imagine the man without art. We are people because we make art.

Henry Moore ( sculptor ) said in 1934: “When I visited Altamira I thought, it was like I went back to the origin, it is the most fertile place. www.henry-moore.org

More information: Documentos RNE. Altamira, primera Huella del Paleolítico. El eterno presente. 01/10/2015

My version of the Bison of Altamira: ” Toro”, screen printing, color printing 11 color layers, 68 x 90 cm, edition 200 expl. www.angelesnieto.nl

Photos: MNCIA/ P. Saura, Museo de Altamira, Angeles Nieto



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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Bernie Taylor
    September 25, 2017 at 3:17 am

    There is another perspective to add to your Altamira page. Picasso not only found his inspiration for cubism in the Spanish Paleolithic cave of Altamira but also transferred the metaphor of the mare to his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.


    Bernie Taylor

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