The "Spotted Horses" mural, painted by woman artists inside France's Pech Merle cave dated 23 millennium BC is a fine example of the prehistoric graphic design. According to the analysis of Pennsylvania State University archaeologist Dean Snow many of the artists working in that cave were women. Until recently, most scientists assumed the prehistoric handprints on the rockwalls around such images belong to man.National Geographic
|The image of a bison in Altamira Cave, Spain.|
|Image of a horse in the Chauvet cave.|
|Drawing of a horse in the Lascaux cave.|
|A rock drawing in Bhimbetka India.|
|Aboriginal Rock Art, Ubirr Art Site, Kakadu National Park, Australia|
|A battle image on Tassili rocks of Ajjer (Algeria),|
A good example of this art is observable on the paintings of Altamira, which are located in the deep recesses of caves in the mountains of Northern Spain, far out of the reach of the destructive forces of wind and water. As a result these paintings have been preserved rather intact from 9,000-17,000 B.C. In addition to these murals, Altamira is the only site of cave paintings in which tools, hearths and food remains also have been found. These signs shed light on the habitat, and living conditions of these prehistoric artists . Unlike the other similar caves in Europe and elsewhere, the Altamira caves show no signs of soot deposits, which perhaps suggest that the people at Altamira had slightly more advanced lighting technology emitting less smoke and soot than the torches and fat lamps which Paleolithic people are given credit for.
It should be noted that, there is no consensus among archaeologists as to when Altamira's parietal art was first created. Early investigations suggested that the most of it was created at the same time as the Lascaux cave paintings - that is, during the early period of Magdalenian art (15,000 BC). But according to the most recent research, some drawings were made between 23,000 and 34,000 BCE, during the period of Aurignacian art, contemporaneous with the Chauvet Cave paintings and the Pech-Merle cave paintings. The general style at Altamira remains that of Franco-Cantabrian cave art, as characterised by the pronounced realism of the figures represented. Indeed, Altamira's artists are renowned for how they used the natural contours of the cave to make their animal figures seem extra-real.
Like the Lascaux cave, Altamira has three types of art: coloured paintings, black drawings and rock engravings. As mentioned above, subjects are mostly animals (bison, boar, deer, horses), although there are eight anthropomorphic figures and a large amount of geometric signs and symbols.
The paintings are unique for several reasons. First, they are composed of many different colours (up to three colours in a single animal), more than is common in most other examples of parietal art. The bisons in particular are depicted in varying shades, making them appear astonishingly lifelike. Second, the animals - twenty-five of which are depicted in life-size proportions - are depicted with unusual accuracy. The bisons are especially well rendered; so too is the red deer. Other animals are also depicted in detail, down to the texture of their fur and manes. Third, when composing their pictures, the Magdalenian artists took full advantage of the natural contours, facets and angles of the rock surface to make the figures as three-dimensional as possible.
The Altamiran artists primarily focused on bison, which was a main economic resource for them. Not only as a source of food, but also other useful commodities like skin, bones and fur. These prehistoric artists used natural earth pigments like ochre and zinc oxides, some of the images are painted with three colors. This is a significant artistic achievement, particularly when taken into consideration the masterly execution of the animal's anatomy, and their accurate physical proportions.
On the 18th December 1994, three French cavers - Eliette Brunel-Deschamps, Christian Hillaire and Jean-Marie Chauvet discovered the Chauvet cave with breathtaking Palaeolithic period paintings which are about 35,000 years old.
The paintings of the Chauvet cave depict a stunning menagerie of the beasts that roamed Ice Age Europe 35,000 years ago.
Painted in charcoal and red ochre, or etched into the limestone, the artists worked with the contours of the rock with careful shading and skilful technique to bring more than 400 animals to life, revealing movement and depth.
Paintings are not the only traces of the human presence: as the soil remained untouched, twenty footprints of a preteen, fireplaces and flint tools with traces of use are also present.
Instead of avoiding Chauvet Cave, a potentially dangerous place, it appears that these early humans embraced their affinity with animals and ventured into caves where predators had sought refuge. Although they had recognized the spiritual significance of the cave, they also respected that space as the domain of the cave bears. Thus, they never used this space as a shelter, but employed it only for painting and possibly for their ritual ceremonies. Instead of trying to subjugate the cave bears or occupying their place, they used the space only in special occasion.
|Mishipeshu and other pictographs at Agawa Bay – said by Thor Conway to be “the most famous image of aboriginal art in Canada”|
Rock art of Iran
High in the Indus Valley of Pakistan are some of the most intricate and diverse petroglyphs on earth. These are the ancient Shatial glyphs on the Karakoram Highway in the Giligit-Baltistan region. Dating from the Stone Age to the birth of Islam, the glyphs cover rocks and boulders stretching for over 100 kilometers. The writings and designs cover several languages, religions and the symbolism of peoples dating back 10,000 years. Some of these magnificent glyphs are under threat from modern hydropower projects planned in the Indus Valley.
|Priest Guiding a Sacrificial Bull- Fragment of mural painting from the palace of Zimri-Lim, Mari (modern Tell Hariri, Iraq) 2040-1870 BC.|
There is no doubt that ancient Egyptians were the originator of what is today defined as 'visual communication design'. The Egyptian language of antiquity used the same word, sekh, to signify writing, drawing, and painting, and from the very beginning of her history, Egypt used written messages in combination with images to convey various socio-cultural values that were at the roots of her system of beliefs. More than five thousand years ago, the graphic designers of Egypt were working on a strict greed system that established conventional codes of representation in sculpture, painting, and relief. By and large, Egyptian scribes used the same conventions in the standardization of hieroglyphic signs in their system of writing. This is why the ancient Egyptian graphic design and hieroglyphs are closely correlated. For instance, the hieroglyphic ideogram for "man," is the figure of a seated man, which also appears frequently in sculptures and paintings.
“Greetings to you, Osiris, Lord of Eternity
King of the Two Lands, Chief of both banks…<
Youth, King, who took the White Crown for himself…
Who makes himself young again a million times…
What he loves is that every face looks up to him…
Shining youth, who is in the primordial water, born on the first of the year…
From the outflow of his limbs both lands drink.
Of him it is arranged that the corn springs forth from the water
In which he is situated….
Atum’s myth merged with that of the great sun god Ra, giving rise to the deity Atum-Ra. In the beginning there was only Nun, a primordial mass of unstructured water, Atum-Ra, lived in Nun. After a period of time he rose from the splendor of the Sun. Atum-Ra was the father of the gods, creating the first divine couple, Tefnut and Shu, the first female and male gods. He created these two children out of dust and his own spittle; Tefnut, was the Goddess of Moisture, and Shu was the god of Air and together with their father they formed a trinity. Tefnut and Shu, gave birth to Geb, the earth God, who married Nut, the Goddess of sky, and with her fathered four children; Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys.
|Judgement before Osiris, from the papyrus of the scribe Hunefer, from the book of the dead of Hunefer, 19th Dynasty. 1285 BC, painted papyrus, British Museum, London|
When Osiris returned, Seth, his jealous brother, plotted to murder him in order to usurp his throne. Seth gave a royal banquet and offered his guests, including Osiris, a prize in the form of a magnificent coffin, which was specially built to fit Osiris’ body. The winer was supposed to be the one who best fitted in the coffin, and when Osiris tried it, Seth shut the lid and threw the coffin in the Nile river. Seth assumed the kingship, and the grieving Isis went out to look for Osiris' body, where she found it in Byblos. She brought the corpse back to Egypt, and through her powerful magic brought him back to life for a while to conceive a son, Horus, who was to avenge his father's death. Seth found the Osiris body, tore it apart into pieces, and threw them back into the Nile. Isis stubbornly searched for him and found every piece of his body and reassembled it by papyrus bands into a mummy. Osiris then transformed to an akh, and traveled to the underworld to become king and judge of the dead.
Meanwhile, Seth continued his cruel rule. Isis was hidden with her baby Horus in the marshes. When Isis went to buy food in the villages Seth's spies found where she was hiding. Seth disguised as a snake and went into her hiding place. He found Horus alone and being a snake bit and poisoned the child. The poor mother brought the baby to the villagers and asked for their help to no avail. she cried out in despair. Nephtys, her sister, advised her to stop the Sun Boat of Ra and ask him for help. Isis, who was aware of Ra's secret name, used it to stop his boat. Ra through his messenger, Thoth assured her of the safety of Horus by promising that the Sun Boat would stop untill Horus was recovered. Ra kept his promises and Horus was cured. Horus grew to become a hero, and when he was ready, Isis gave him great Magic to use against Seth. Horus found Seth and challenged him for the throne. They fought for many days, until Seth gave up, and was castrated. Horus did not kill him, lest he be just as wicked as him. A fight broke up among the Gods who supported Horus and the Gods who supported Seth. But realizing that their quarrel would disturb Ma'at, or the balance of life,they asked the wise Neith for for his arbitration. Neith ruled that Horus was the rightful heir to the throne. Thus, Horus cast Seth into Darkness, where he lives to this day, still scheming to overthrow Horus.
|Nebamun hunting in the marshes, fragment of a scene from the tomb-chapel of a wealthy Egyptian official called Nebamun, C. 1350 BC.|
The grammatical rules of Egyptian visual communication were framed within the two aspects of 'Frontality' and 'Axiality'. The rules of axiality meant figures were placed on an axis. Proportions of figures were related to the width of the palm of the hand so there were rules about proportions of head to body. The faces were devoid of emotional expression. Hieratic scaling dictated that the sizes of figures were determined by their importance. The proportions of children did not change; they are just depicted smaller in scale. Servants and animals were usually shown in smaller scale. In order to clearly define the social hierarchy of a situation, figures were drawn to sizes based not on their distance from the painter's point of view but on relative importance. For instance, the Pharaoh would be drawn as the largest figure in a painting no matter where he was situated, and a greater God would be drawn larger than a lesser god.
Axiality, proportion and hieratic scaling indicate that Egyptian artists would have had to use mathematics to construct their composition. Ancient Egyptian artists used vertical and horizontal reference lines in order to maintain the correct proportions in their work. The tombs walls still carry the traces of these grids used to ensure the conventions were kept to by the lower and apprentice artists working for the master artist. Political and religious, as well as artistic order was maintained in Egyptian art. Important figures were not usually depicted overlapping, but figures of servants were. Each object or element in a scene was designed and drawn from its most recognizable angle. The objects in a scene were then grouped together to create the whole. This is why images of people show their face, waist, and limbs in profile, but the eye and shoulders are shown facing frontally. These scenes are composite images designed to provide complete information about the relationship of the objects to each other, rather than from a single viewpoint.
Distance of a figure, with respect to the viewer, is either presented by the overlapping of the bodies or by placing of the more distant figures above the ones in the foreground. However, the prominent dignitaries rarely overlap one another. Husbands and wives are depicted in a close distance from each other so that only their arms may overlap. The important peoples' bodies had to be represented complete and according to the canons. However, the lower ranking individuals, servants and slaves were often depicted as overlapping. The artists used such occasions to introduce some rhythmic repetitive patterns with these overlapping bodies so as to enhance the aesthetics of their works.
|Queen Nefertari bringing an offering to Goddesses Hathor and Selkis, Tomb of Queen Nefertari, wife of Rameses IInd. Thebes.|
In representing objects and landscapes the artists used the same multiple points of view technique. For instance, in the image Queen Nefertari bringing an offering to Goddesses Hathor and Selkis, we can see the goddesses are sitting in profile. The table-leg in front of them is represented from front viewpoint, the tabletop is viewed directly from above. The offerings on the tabletop are arranged vertically, so that each item can be identified by the viewer.
Egyptians paid particular attention to represent various modes of production at various stages of the of work, in farming, wine making and so on. In many of their tombs, such as tomb of nakht, various scenes of daily works such as ploughing, digging, sowing, stages of the harvest: the measuring and winnowing of the grain , the reaping and pressing of the grain into baskets and so on are depicted.
|Sennedjem and his wife harvesting grain, from the tomb Sennedjems at Deir el Medina.|
|Production of wine - two laborers pick the grapes, the juices are then squeezed out of them by men on the left - while a man is filling jars from a tap|
|Nebamun’s cattle, fragment of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun, around 1350 BC|
|A feast for Nebamum, bottom half of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun, C. 1350 BC|
|A feast for Nebamum, top half of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun, C. 1350 BC|
|A feast for Nebamum, top half of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun, C. 1350 BC|
|Senejem and His Wife, Tomb of Nakht|
|Nakht and his wife sit before offerings, Tomb of Nakht - Scribe of the Granaries (reign of Tuthmosis IV)|
|The tomb of Nakht; his wife tenderly holds a bird in her hand.|
|The tomb of Nakht, a nude young girl leaning to offer perfume to three female dignitaries.|
|Birds are being caught in nets and plucked. The filled net is a complex of wings and colors|
|Detail from the joint Book of the dead of Herihor and Queen Nodjmet.|
They both make obeisance towards offerings and a Weighting of the Heart scene, and Osiris seated beyond. Removed from the Deir el-Bahari royal cache before 1881. British Museum.
|The tomb of Sebekhotep in the reign of Thutmose IV (c. 1400-1390 BC), The wall from which this fragment came almost certainly showed Sebekhotep receiving the produce of the Levant and Africa, which he then presented to the king.|
Fresco of the rite of the goddess Isis, Herculaneum, Italy.
Isis was an Egyptian goddess whose worship spread all over the Mediterranean. It arrived on Pompeii’s doorstep at the end of the 2nd century B.C and archeological evidence suggests that the cult of Isis (and of Dionysus) reached its height in popularity probably in Pompeii and Herculaneum’s final years. When Pompeii’s origin Temple of Isis was destroyed in an earthquake in 62 AD, a new one was fully restored in its place, highlighting the importance the cult of Isis held over the town.
The mosaic on the tablinum floor of the House of the Tragic Poet, which features a rehearsal scene for a theatrical performance, tells us how seriously the Pompeiians took their theaters. Interestingly, Pompeii had two stone theaters almost two decades before Rome had its first permanent stone theater.
Go to the next chapter: Chapter 2 - The Medium is the Message