Paleolithic Art c30,000-10,000 BCE

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Paleolithic Art c30,000-10,000 BCE

Main Ideas
Vocabulary about art.
How to look at or breakdown a work of art in terms of its physical appearance and feel.
What do these things mean and what kinds of subjects and ideas are repeated.
Where and how were these things found and what do they tell us about mankind back then and maybe now.


(1) : orderly method of arrangement (as in the presentation of ideas) : manner of coordinating elements (as of an artistic production or course of reasoning)

(2) : a particular kind or instance of such arrangement <the sonnet is a poetical form>

b : PATTERN, SCHEMA <arguments of the same logical form>

c : the structural element, plan, or design of a work of art --  visible and measurable unit defined by a contour : a bounded surface or volume

(3) The literal shape and mass of an object or figure.

(4) More general, the materials used to make a work of art, the ways in which these materials are used utilized in terms of the formal elements (medium, texture, rhythm, tempo, dynamic contrast, melody, line, light/contrast/value structure, color, texture, size and composition.)



formal analysis
Is the analysis of a work by discussing its form such as its size, medium, shape, lines, light, color, texture and composition.

bass relief and haute relief
(low relief and high relief)
"sculpture in the round"

Etymology: Medieval Latin iconographia, from Greek eikonographia sketch, description, from eikonographein to describe, from eikon- + graphein to write -- more at CARVE
Date: 1678
1 : pictorial material relating to or illustrating a subject
2 : the traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject
3 : the imagery or symbolism of a work of art, an artist, or a body of art

Iconographic Analysis

An iconographic analysis is the analysis of the symbols and what they mean in the work, or what the work itself symbolizes.

Some scholars such as Marilyn Stokstad refers to this as content.  According to Stokstad book Art History:

"Content includes subject matter, which is quite simply is what is represented, even when that consists strictly of lines and formal elements-lines and color without recognizable subject matter, for example."

"The study of the "what" of subject matter is iconography.  Iconology has come to mean the study of the "why" of subject matter."



Etymology: Middle English, weaving together of words, from Latin contextus connection of words, coherence, from contexere to weave  together, from com- + texere to weave

1 : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning

 2 : the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : ENVIRONMENT, SETTING

contextual analysis
Is the analysis of a work by discussing its history, culture, environment, and or background.
Roughly close to conclusion in music.


contextualism A methodological approach in art history which focuses on the cultural back ground of an art object.  Unlike connoirsseurship, contexualism utilizes the literature, history, economics, and social developments (among others) of a period, as well as the object itself, to explain the meaning of an artwork. 

She was unearthed by worker Johann Veran, about 30m above the River Danube, during the Wachau railway construction in 1908, then identified by Austrian archaeologist Josef Szombathy. Wilendorf had already been known as a Palaeolithic site for over 20 years before systematic excavations by Josef Szombathy, Josef Bayer and Hugo Obermaier began.



Kachina Palhik’ mama 
(Water Drinking Girl)
c 1920 wood pt. Yarn front view
SW United States, Hopi Culture

Woman from Willendorf, (Venus of Willendorf ),
Austria. c. 22,000-21,000 BCE.
       limestone, painted with ochre. Size: 4 3/4 inches 
       Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna
Paleolithic Period


Title Venus of Willendorf

Region/Country Europe (Austria)

period/style name  Paleolithic

approximate dates c. 22,000-21,000 BCE.

Historic Era Neolithic Technology Cultures

1125-1200 CE Ansazi
1300-Present  Navajo, Hopi, Zuni,
1300?- Present Kwakiutl, Tlingit, Haida


600,000-10,000 European Sites: Altamira, Lascaux, Tuc Audoubert, La Madeleine, Willendorf

Neolithic Cultures

4,000-1,500 BCE Europe
6,000-3,500 BCE Near East Catal Huyuk
800BCE-100 CE North America  Adena (Serpent Mound)


Bison from La Madeleine
15,000 – 10,000 BCE 
4" long reindeer horn


Probably Haida, Possibly Kwakiutl
Knife handle?
19th Century, ivory, pearl, shell, wood,
Ht 4 1/8’’ width 1 5/8’’

Paleolithic Art c30,000-10,000 BCE

Altamira Spain, 25,000 BCE

Cosquer Cave, France c25,000


Chauvet Cave c 30,000 BCE

Lascaux, France, Paleolithic Period, 15,000-13,500 BC or asym.met.ric adj [Gk asymmetria lack of proportion, fr. asymmetros ill-proportioned, fr. a- + symmetros symmetrical] (1690) 1: not symmetrical 2 usu asymmetric, of a carbon atom: bonded to four different atoms or groups -- adv -- n n, pl -tries [L symmetria, fr. Gk, fr. symmetros symmetrical, fr. syn- + metron measure--more at measure] (1541) 1: balanced proportions; also: beauty of form arising from balanced proportions 2: the property of being symmetrical; esp: correspondence in size, shape, and relative position of parts on opposite sides of a dividing line or median plane or about a center or axis--compare bilateral symmetry, radial symmetry 3: a rigid motion of a geometric figure that determines a one-to-one mapping onto itself 4: the property of remaining invariant under certain changes (as of orientation in space, of the sign of the electric charge, of parity, or of the direction of time flow)--used of physical phenomena and of equations describing them

bilateral symmetry n (1860): symmetry in which similar anatomical parts are arranged on opposite sides of a median axis so that only one plane can divide the individual into essentially identical halves

space,  picture plane, and overlapping

  • space
  • composition
  • picture plane

The black edges of the contour lines are accented with a chiseled line into the rock.


Why in profile? What function does contour serve?
-ferrous oxides
-vehicle or medium

c. 15,000-12,000 BC
bison length 77 in. (195 cm)
Altamira, Spain 




Wounded bison attacking a man?
c. 15,000-10,000 BC
bison length 43 in. (110 cm)
Lascaux, France 

Items for discussion: 

Most of these don't have a single "correct" answer. I want you to guess, theorize, and speculate.):

What are the major subjects painted and sculpted in the Paleolithic era?

Why no architecture?

Why no pottery?

Why no plants?

Why were they nomadic?

Where and how were these things found and what do they tell us about mankind back then and maybe now?

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