It is noteworthy that all works of this kind appertaining to the embryonal period of the arts of design display the want of proportionality, the absence of symmetry characteristic of silhouettes of shadows. The uniform impression given by these drawings is that they refer, not to the objects themselves, but to their shadows. It is likewise interesting to remark that some contemporaneous savages—some Australians, for example—are still incapable of grasping the meaning of the most perfectly faithful images, while they readily understand a rude, ill-proportioned drawing. Thus, to give them the idea of a man, he must be drawn with a greatly enlarged head—a detail, the spirit of which is paralleled upon a drawing found in a cavern in France, and representing a fisherman. He has a very small body, but his hand, armed with an enormous harpoon, is the hand of a giant.
In his struggle with surrounding Nature—a struggle of which it is almost impossible for us to conceive an exact idea—the first need of primitive man was to possess some means of giving him confidence in victory. In going to the hunt he took with him, as the North American Indian does, and as do under another form some of the gamblers in our most civilized circles, the fetich that was to assure his success—that is, the image of the animal he wanted to kill. In engraving on the handle of his dagger the likeness of a reindeer or other animal, he was not thinking of decorating his weapon, but only of bringing some magic power to bear upon his prey; and it was precisely faith in that mysterious force, by giving him boldness, energy, and security of movement, that would procure him success. Confidence acts thus in everything.
Like the modern savage, the man of the caves believed that the greater the resemblance between the animal and its likeness, the greater was the chance of acting on the animal. Hence the care taken in the pictured reproduction of animals particularly sought for, and against which his struggle was the most earnest; hence those perfect drawings of the reindeer, that magnificent game of our ancestors. Very different are the characteristics of the drawings of human forms. To account for these differences, it must be considered that all the archæological data relative to the epoch of the reindeer are unanimous in attesting that the man of that age was of a peaceful character.
While, then, we are justified in believing that the men of the caverns very rarely raised their hands against one another, it is none the less certain that they led a bitter and truceless struggle against animals. They therefore rarely had occasion to practice the drawing of the human figure; whence the great imperfections of the figures of that kind as compared with the figures of animals.