Hall of Bulls is one of the most recognizable images from the Lascaux caves.
Whether it’s the Renaissance Madonnas or Jeff Koons’s balloon-like sculptures, art isn’t for everyone. But it’s tough to resist the magic and mystery of the images hidden away in the Lascaux caves of France. Created almost 20,000 years ago, these Paleolithic paintings have been closed to the public since 1963—and unless you’ve visited the replica that opened near the site in 1983, this wonder-inducing constellation of subtly rendered wildlife has remained a one-dimensional encounter, a color plate in a book. But with “Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux,” a newly created exhibition organized by France’s General Council of Dordogne, these prehistoric masterpieces come alive in Chicago at The Field Museum.
“This is a to-the-millimeter accurate representation of five scenes at Lascaux,” says Anna Altschwager, Exhibition Project Manager at the Field. “The topography of the caves was mapped digitally, and walls of thin fiberglass were fabricated and covered with various plastics to mimic patina and texture, right down to the calcite deposits that formed over a lot of the paintings and make them glisten. It’s a really dynamic experience for the visitor.”
The installation is supplemented with material from the Field’s own considerable holdings of Paleolithic materials, displayed to introduce museum-goers to the history of the people who fashioned these transfixing images. “People hear ‘cave people’ and think ‘knuckle draggers,’” suggests Altschwager, “but this was a really rich, diverse culture of music, art, religion. These were homo sapiens, the same as you and me.” “Scenes from the Stone Age: The Cave Paintings of Lascaux” is on view March 20 through September 8 at The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., 312-922-9410