The Cave Painters is a vivid introduction to the spectacular cave paintings of France and Spain—the individuals who rediscovered them, theories about their origins, their splendor and mystery.
Gregory Curtis makes us see the astonishing sophistication and power of the paintings and tells us what is known about their creators, the Cro-Magnon people of some 40,000 years ago. He takes us through various theories—that the art was part of fertility or hunting rituals, or used for religious purposes, or was clan mythology—examining the ways interpretations have changed over time. Rich in detail, personalities, and history, The Cave Painters is above all permeated with awe for those distant humans who developed—perhaps for the first time—both the ability for abstract thought and a profound and beautiful way to express it.
For centuries, people have been going into caves in France and Spain, looking at the 30,000-year-old pictures painted there and asking, "What can they be?" In this lively survey, Curtis, former Texas Monthly editor, makes it clear that while we'll never have a definitive answer, the quest will always be fascinating. He begins by laying out who the painters probably were and what their world was like during the waning days of Neanderthals. Then he dives into the caves and the bitter controversies on the art within, from the war of ideas between Marcelo Sautuola and Emile Cartailhac in the late 19th century to Jean Clottes's and David Lewis-Williams's current, strongly disputed theory that the paintings are related to shamanic quests. Curtis's own speculation is sometimes more arguable than believable, but usually intriguing. He bolsters a slim number of illustrations with concise descriptions that convey his own delight, befuddlement, frustration and awe. At the cave Les Tres-Fr res, he is overwhelmed by the images and by being "as close as I would ever be physically close to The Truth." For readers who may never visit the caves, Curtis's sensitive narration gives a chance to share that encounter with mystery. 20 b&w illus. and 8-page color insert.