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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/845

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827
THE ORIGIN OF ART.

THE ORIGIN OF ART.
By M. LAZAR POPOFF.

WE are accustomed to say that Egypt is the cradle of the arts; yet archaeologists have demonstrated that the earliest works of art are of epochs far anterior to the ancient Egyptian civilizations. According to these authors, these works were contemporaneous with the presence of the reindeer in the south of France, and of a time when the mammoth had not yet disappeared, and when man, ignorant of the metals, made all his instruments of stone, wood, and bone. In reality, the first works of art, particularly the first efforts at drawing, date from prehistoric times. In France they are found in caverns by the side of the fossil remains of animals now extinct, like the mammoth, or which have abandoned those regions, like the reindeer, in the shape of drawings engraved with flint points as decorations of articles of reindeer horn, such as dagger handles and clubs. Drawings have also been observed on tablets of stone, horn, or ivory derived from mammoth's teeth.

We do not intend to dwell on the rudimentary, merely outline drawings, of which these ornaments consist. We invite special attention to more perfect and more characteristic works, in which, as Carl Vogt remarks, the spirit of observation and imitation of Nature, especially of living Nature, is remarkably manifest. The figure of the mammoth attracts our notice at once. A drawing found in the cavern of La Magdelaine, in the Dordogne, engraved on a tablet of mammoth bone, is marked by the strikingly clumsy attitude of the unwieldy body of the animal, by its long hair, the form of its lofty skull with concave front, and its enormous recurved tusks. All these features, characteristic of this extinct type of pachyderm, have been reproduced by the designer with a really artistic accuracy. The mammoth was already rare in Europe when this primitive artist lived; and that, perhaps, is the reason why only two among the numerous drawings found in the caverns of France are of that animal.[1] The second of these drawings, which was found in La Lozère, is a mammoth's head sculptured on a club.

The figures of the chamois, the bear, and the ox occur more frequently; but those of the reindeer are most numerous. Some are engraved on plates of bone, others as ornaments of various articles. Sometimes groups of animals are represented; or, on the other hand, only parts of them are given, and we see simply the head, or the head and bust.


  1. Similar decorations in outline have been found in Belgian caverns, and are referred by Dupont to the age of the mammoth.