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EDUARDO PALACIO-PÉREZ

CAVE ART AND THE THEORY OF ART: THE ORIGINS OF THE RELIGIOUS INTERPRETATION OF PALAEOLITHIC GRAPHIC EXPRESSION

Summary. This paper explores the origins of the symbolic–religious interpretation of Palaeolithic art. We analyse the relationship between the explanations that were given of the ‘primitive’ mentality in the second half of the nineteenth century and the birth of the religious interpretations of Palaeolithic art and we try to show how this union does not express a direct cause–effect relationship. In order for the union to take place, an intellectual change that would generate a new way of understanding the origins and the nature of art was necessary.

an ongoing debate
Since the late 1960s, there has developed the idea that the recognition of the age of Palaeolithic cave art was closely linked to the ‘conceptual discovery’ of the symbolic and religious world of primitive peoples. Indeed, the existence in the nineteenth century of an over-rigid idea of progress has been the corner-stone of the explanation for the slow process of the acceptance of cave art. In that way, a very simplistic form of evolutionism, which denied any hint of symbolic and intellectual complexity amongst hunter-gatherers, made it impossible to fit such art within a ‘savage’ society. It was only when this idea of progress became more flexible, in parallel with the discovery and more precise definition of the symbolic–religious world of primitive people, that the prehistoric chronology of the parietal depictions could be accepted (Ucko and Rosenfeld 1967, 118–23; Richard 1993, 65–7; González Morales and Moro Abadía 2002; 2004a; Moro Abadía 2006, 130–2). Closely related to the above proposal, González Morales and Moro Abadía (Moro Abadía and González Morales 2003; González Morales and Moro Abadía 2004b) have associated the problem with the manner in which prehistorians defined the decorated portable objects, disseminated from 1864 onwards. These were conceptualized as crafts, a ‘lesser art’ aimed at decoration, characteristic of traditional and primitive societies, in contrast with the ‘fine arts’ associated with the expression of the aesthetic ideals of civilized mankind. Clearly, with such a restricted conception of Palaeolithic art, there was no room for the parietal depictions. Without doubt, it seems that the two latter explanations have added details to a theoretical context within which the different discoveries and explanations made for Palaeolithic
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art in the period 1860–1900 can be framed. However, does the key for the recognition of the age of cave art lie in the discovery of the religious and symbolic world of primitive people in the second half of the nineteenth century? Is there a direct correlation between the acceptance of parietal art and the generalization of the concepts of animism, totemism and sympathetic magic? and with the existence of a supposed religion in the ‘Age of Reindeer’, deduced from the discovery of Palaeolithic burials? Were these new revelations really sufficient to look upon the cave paintings in another way? Or were other changes needed that we have not previously taken into account? This paper will attempt to show that there was no direct transference between the ‘discovery’ of ‘primitive religion’ and the acceptance of cave art. Tylor and McLennan’s ideas about animism and totemism, or Frazer’s notion of magic, would not be applied to Palaeolithic art with any continuity until several years later. In the same way, the recognition of Palaeolithic art following the discovery of graves attributed to that period did not bring about any changes in the way of interpreting portable art. In our opinion, all these ideas required a catalyst to be applied to Palaeolithic creativity, and this was the Theory of Art. It was only in the late nineteenth century, when Art Theory, undergoing a process of change, began to incorporate the concepts of animism, totemism and sympathetic magic in its reflections, that a new idea was developed for the origins of art itself, enabling the age of cave art to be accepted. This perception understood the origins of art in magic–religious terms, and not only from the viewpoint of aesthetic feeling. However, this process took place quite rapidly in the 1890s, in parallel with the discovery of new cave art ensembles in France.

evolutionist prehistory and the discovery of the palaeolithic mind
The image that most nineteenth century archaeologists had of Palaeolithic hunters was influenced by social evolutionist thought. However, we cannot suppose that this perception was homogeneous throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. In the first phase, which we can date between 1860 and the mid-1880s, authors such as Mortillet and Lubbock were to define a rather crude image of Palaeolithic man. The hunter ‘is neither free nor noble; he is a slave to his own wants, his own passions; imperfectly protected from the weather, he suffers from the cold by night and the heat of the sun by day; ignorant of agriculture, living by the chase, and improvident in success, hunger always stares him in the face, and often drives him to the dreadful alternative of cannibalism or death’ (Lubbock 1865, 484). Mortillet presented the Magdalenians as starving nomads constantly in chase of the herds of reindeer (Mortillet 1883, 476–8). Similarly, if their material life was characterized by need, their intellectual life was seen as dull and simple: ‘that our earliest ancestors could have counted to ten is very improbable, considering that so many races now in existence can not get beyond four’ (Lubbock 1865, 475). As well as being incapable and ignorant, the savage was ingenuous and with no sense of the transcendent. Several authors (Lubbock [1870] 1987, 192; Broca 1866, 75) deduced, therefore, that it was impossible that any true religious thought could exist within primitive society. Naturally, Quaternary hunters had no religion, as Mortillet maintained vehemently all his life: ‘It happens that as soon as religious ideas appear, funerary practices are introduced. However, there is no evidence of funerary practices in the Quaternary. Quaternary man was, therefore, wholly devoid of any feeling of religiousness’ (Mortillet 1883, 476). In the case of Gabriel de Mortillet, it was his strict evolutionism combined with personal and political reasons
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that caused him to maintain a radical anti-clericalism. All of this must have coincided in his desire to prove that religion was not intrinsic to human nature (Reinach 1899, 478; Bahn 1992, 341–5). In parallel and in accordance with the above, it was at that time when the definition of portable art as simple decorative craftsmanship was formulated (González Morales and Moro Abadía 2004b). However, this rigid and simplistic view of intellectual life in the Palaeolithic would start to change, at least after 1885. Without doubt, the diffusion of Tylor’s theories of cultural– mentalist evolutionism1 was an important incentive for this transformation. In fact, in 1866, this author wrote a paper in which for the first time he gave form to his theory of animism to explain the most primitive and basic expression of religion (Tylor 1866) and he did not hesitate to attribute this type of belief to the most primitive humans: ‘We also know that one of the coarsest forms of religious feelings consists of believing and worshipping the immaterial things that exist in the winds, the trees, the waters, that ripen fruits and make the rain fall, that cause the illnesses and misfortunes of the savage hunter [ . . . ] The worship of spirits of this kind are to be found, it may be said, amongst the savage populations all over the world’ (Tylor 1867, 707). A few years later, in the wake of the idea of animism created by Tylor, a new topic of discussion appeared: totemism. The general notion of totemism was introduced into the anthropological debate by McLennan in a paper published in two parts during 1869 and 1870, under the title of ‘The worship of animals and plants’ (McLennan 1869–1870a; 1869–1870b). McLennan defined totemism as the oldest animist belief, whilst granting it universal validity. These ideas were developed further by anthropologists and religious scholars. Thus, in 1890, Frazer’s work, The Golden Bough, appeared. In this, he pursued an evolutionary organization of the different belief systems, following Tylor’s proposal that modern religion is simply the development of more ancient ways of thought. Frazer defined the mentality of primitive populations as basically magic. In fact, this author, in collaboration with the ethnographers Spencer and Gillen (1899, 112–27) reduced totemism to a simple set of magic practices aimed at ensuring the fecundity of the totem-species and therefore of the ‘clan’ that identified itself with it. In this way, sympathetic hunting magic and totemism became the generic interpretative framework for primitive religion. Together with the rise of an Anthropology concerned with the mental production of human beings (language, religion, mythology, literature, etc.) we must refer to the development of comparative religious studies, with such influential authors as Max Müller (1859; 1889; 1892; 1893), and to widely distributed philosophical works such as La Creation, by Edgar Quinet (Quinet 1870b), of which some extracts were published (‘Mort d’une race humaine’, ‘Idée de l’immortalité dans l’homme fossile’) in the journal Matériaux pour l’histoire primitive et naturelle de l’homme (Quinet 1870a). It is clear that these theories were soon to form part of the prehistorians’ way of thinking. They appeared in two decisive debates: one arising from the acceptance of the Palaeolithic date of certain burials and, some years later, the debate on the existence of cave art. We shall begin by examining the former of these, as it involved a clear break with all those ideas that had denied any kind of religiousness among Palaeolithic humans.
1 In the late nineteenth century, two main lines were followed in evolutionist thought. One of these was social, with a clearly materialistic character, which stressed the knowledge of kinship, technology and forms of subsistence. The other line, cultural or intellectual, was concerned with the study of beliefs and the evolution of religions. Thus, whereas for social evolutionists the savage was a hunter dominated by instinct, promiscuous and nomadic, for cultural evolutionists he was a kind of speculator seeking explanations to solve the mysteries of nature and existence through religion and magic (Stocking 1987, 208–28).

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In 1864, Lartet and Christy were the first to suggest the existence of a funerary cult during the ‘Age of Reindeer’ based on the remains found at Aurignac (Christy and Lartet 1864, 24). In the same way, Louis Lartet (1869) recorded in 1868 the presence of a ritual burial in the Palaeolithic at Cro-Magnon. Between 1872 and 1875, Émile Rivière (1872) excavated in the caves of Bouaoussé-Roussé near Menton, where he discovered the remains of possible burials among abundant Palaeolithic material. However, many prehistorians refused to accept this evidence, and alluded to stratigraphical arguments that negated the Palaeolithic date of the skeletons (Mortillet 1883, 471–2) or assumed they were the results of accidents caused by the collapse of boulders, as in the case of Laugerie-Basse (Massenat, Lalande and Cartailhac 1872, 1063; Mortillet 1883, 469–70). It was Cartailhac who, in 1886, after detailed study of the various human remains found at different sites, finally attributed the existence of clearly defined burials to the Palaeolithic: ‘The skeleton thus prepared had been the object of the mysterious attention of the living, dressed with adornments, covered with red dust and probably hidden beneath a thin layer of earth and ashes [ . . . ] In France we have seen sites that reveal the same funerary rite [ . . . ] The observations made in the Pyrenees and the centre of France show that this custom was generalised’ (Cartailhac 1886, 460–70). In this way, the idea grew that the ‘primitive’ people in the Palaeolithic possessed some form of religiousness and a solid belief in the afterlife. However, did this new discourse produce a change in the way of interpreting portable art? In general, we can say that it did not. Most authors continued to maintain a decorative– amusement interpretation of the artwork produced on antlers and bones.

continuity and change in the discourse on the origins and nature of ‘primitive’ art
The ideas put forward by Tylor and McLennan about primitive religion and the acceptance of funerary rituals in the Palaeolithic did not produce, at least directly and immediately, any change in the way of interpreting the art of the ‘Age of Reindeer’. In fact, even authors who advocated the existence of pristine religiousness amongst Europeans in the Upper Palaeolithic (Quatrefages [1877] 1896, 349–56; Joly 1885, 304–12) continued to believe in a decorative interpretation of their works of art (Quatrefages [1877] 1896, 209–11; Joly 1885, 264–77). In the same way, the recognition of funerary cults in the Magdalenian, and, therefore, some type of pious feeling (Cartailhac 1886; Du Cleuziou 1887, 279–83), did not involve seeing the engravings and sculptures on antler and bone as any more than mere ornamental amusement (Cartailhac 1889, 78–83; Du Cleuziou 1887, 266). In addition, in the opinion of the more simplistic evolutionists, cave-men could not have felt any religious emotions (Mortillet 1883, 476; Dreyfus [1888] 1893, 292) and, naturally, they remained true to their idea that the art was only the result of the naïve imitation of nature (Mortillet 1898, 22; Dreyfus [1888] 1893, 224–5). However, in the 1890s, a series of changes took shape in Art Theory, transforming the way of understanding the primitive creations. These, without doubt, helped to take into account the possibility that the paintings and engravings found on the walls and ceilings of caves belonged to the prehistoric period. These changes can be summarized thus: first, the concept of art was enlarged and, second, anthropological and ethnographical studies played a larger part in the field of aesthetic thought.
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enlargement in the concept of art
There have been few moments in history in which the concept of art has undergone such a profound change as in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The idea of creativity separate from the pragmatism of everyday life and the absorption in the search for aesthetic values, as regards beauty and capturing the ‘sublime’ or ‘picturesque’, defined the perception of what art should be during a large part of the nineteenth century (Tatarkiewicz 1971). These ideas favoured an arts classification system which differentiated between ‘lesser arts’ of a decorative or artisan kind, and ‘fine arts’, associated with the search for beauty and the aesthetic ideal. In this scheme of thought, nineteenth century bourgeois society tended to consider the creations of contemporary ‘savages’ and, naturally, the works of art attributed to ‘Age of Reindeer’ cave-men as a simple form of decorative craftsmanship (Moro Abadía and González Morales 2003; González Morales and Moro Abadía 2004a; 2004b). However, these assumptions were to be slowly eroded away, as became more than clear in the 1890s. Systems classifying the different art-forms had been criticized since 1870. John Ruskin and William Morris, who developed the concepts of the utility and functionality of artistic objects, personified the initial impulse of the aesthetic revolution. They both helped to regenerate art, and were concerned with improving people’s everyday life with beautiful objects. Equally, they attempted to re-establish the broken links between art and labour; they maintained that neither industrialized nations nor the man carrying out mechanized labour can produce or appreciate beauty, only the craftsman who conceives his work as a moral commitment is capable of creating beautiful products. This union between the aesthetics of the craftsman and functionality culminated in the final decades of the century in the Art Nouveau movement (Pevsner [1936] 1975, 69–84). It is clear that these approaches harboured grave doubts about a system that separated fine arts from the lesser arts: ‘it is only in latter times, and under the most intricate conditions of life, that they have fallen apart from one another; and I hold that, when they are so parted, it is ill for the Arts altogether’ (Morris [1877] 1947a, 17). And with the same firmness they demanded an extension to the concept of art: ‘I must ask you to extend the word art beyond those matters which are consciously works of art, to take in not only painting and sculpture, and architecture, but the shapes and colours of all household goods’ (Morris [1883] 1947b, 132). At the same time, the study of the ‘industrial arts’ of those periods most favoured from the academicist point of view (Classical Antiquity and the Renaissance) and styles coming from distant cultures (ethnographic collections) and other ancient civilizations (Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.) further influenced the attack on this classification: ‘Arbitrary divisions, disastrous for the arts, all established from ignorance and a false appreciation of the variety, worth and merit with which the human spirit may show itself’ (Soldi 1881, 5). Together with this theoretical critique, the role played by artistic development itself was highly significant. Important artists and designers around 1890 (Cézanne, Gauguin, Hofler, Munch and Toorop) were, without doubt, the creators of a new artistic language which transformed the way of understanding art. The pleasure taken in subtle and delicate details, so admired by classical and impressionist artists, was replaced by strong colours and primitive forms. Reality was looked down upon in favour of the expressiveness of patterns and their symbolic meaning. As Pevsner states: ‘carried over into the artist’s personal outlook, this means seriousness, religious conscience, fervent passion, and no longer spirited play or skilful
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craftsmanship. It means, instead of art for art’s sake, art serving something higher than art itself can be’ (Pevsner [1936] 1975, 88). This change in attitude influenced the development of a new way of looking at primitive art. In his work The Origins of Art, Hirn acknowledges the decisive influence of contemporary artistic production in the break with the categorical, ethnocentric and exclusively aesthetic approach that the Theory and History of Art had maintained when it tackled the problem of the origin and evolution of the arts: ‘The artistic activities of savage tribes, which have been practically unknown to esthetic writers until recent years, display many features that cannot be harmonised with the general laws. And in a yet higher degree contemporary art defies the generalisations of a uniform theory’ (Hirn 1900, 3). In the same way, we must bear in mind that in the last decades of the century, the concept of art itself and its classification system had to face the massive spread of photography and new forms of expression, such as the cinema (Tatarkiewicz 1971). In conclusion, all these events and ideas widened and made more flexible the concept of what should be considered art, and were a substantial influence on a new assessment of primitive creations, whether they be contemporary or prehistoric. Hence, Alois Riegl in his book Stilfragen, Grundlegungen zu einer Geschichte der Ornamentik (Problems of Style. Fundamentals for a History of Ornamentation) stated, in reference to Palaeolithic art: ‘The techniques used in the production of the Aquitaine troglodytes do not belong specifically to the so-called crafts, but rather to the so-called higher art (figurative sculpture) which demonstrates the foolishness and injustice existing in that separation from the scientific point of view’ (Riegl 1893, 21).

the anthropological approach in the history of art: towards social aesthetic
In the final decades of the nineteenth century, the increasing interest in anthropological studies meant that other disciplines, such as Archaeology, Philology, the History of Religion and the History of Art were greatly influenced by its ideas (Díaz Andreu 2007, 388–9). Within this context, knowledge of the art of contemporary ‘primitive’ societies increased, owing to the appearance of more detailed ethnographic descriptions and the foundation of several museums exhibiting the creations produced by indigenous peoples in the colonies. Abundant ethnographic literature dealt with and informed these topics. In the case of South Africa, the most important works were by Gustav Fritsch (1872; 1880), Emil Holub (1881) and Fréderic Christol (1897). Some of the most outstanding works on Australian Aborigines were the publications of Mathews (1893; 1895a; 1895b; 1896a; 1896b; 1897; 1898), Roth (1897), Mathew (1894) and the first edition of the report by Badwin Spencer and Frank Gillen (1899), especially Chapter 19. In the case of North America, many important publications were derived from the activities of the Bureau of American Ethnology and the National Museum dependent on the Smithsonian Institution; we may highlight the works of Hamilton (1883), Garrick Mallery (1884), Franz Boas (1888; 1897a; 1897b) and Hoffman (1897). In connection with Arctic populations, the work of Johan Adrian Jacobsen [1884] (1977) was widely circulated. All this information not only influenced the development of Ethnology and Anthropology, but soon provided food for thought for History of Art and Aesthetics. This occurred above all in the German-speaking world, where museum ethnographic collections had grown considerably since 1870, and in the Anglo-Saxon sphere, where there was a greater link with the development of anthropological theory. In the 1890s a series of general works began to appear, tackling the problems of the origins of art from what we might call an ethnological– anthropological viewpoint.
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Within the Germanic scenario, one of the first scholars to follow this approach was the sociologist Ernst Grosse. In his works Ethnologie und Ästhetik (Ethnology and Aesthetics) (1891) and Die Anfänge der Kunst (The Beginnings of Art) (1894), he drew up a sociological artistic theory. Grosse concluded that art has a social function and that the productions of ‘primitive’ peoples can only be understood within the cultural forms in which they originated. He applied the artistic urge to mankind as a whole, especially including hunter-gatherer communities: ‘The gifts of observation and dexterity are the main qualities needed to produce art; these are also the essential qualities required in the profession of hunter’ (Grosse [1894] 1902, 151). However, for this scholar, the art had no religious dimension. The motivation behind these productions would be simple aesthetic pleasure or some practical purpose (narrative or commemorative) associated with the transmission of information, and only in certain exceptional cases does he accept the involvement of pious feelings: ‘we have been able to reach the conclusion from the above that the art of primitive peoples, except for certain isolated cases, has no religious meaning. We are therefore fully authorised to agree with the abundant evidence in favour of the hypothesis stating that primitive people produce art for the pleasure that it gives them’ (Grosse [1894] 1902, 155). A similar impulse can be noted in the Anglo-Saxon world. The level of development reached by Social Anthropology at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford in the late nineteenth century and the foundation of the Pitt Rivers Museum were an incentive for a new look at ‘primitive art’. This new approach would incorporate the ideas that authors like Tylor, McLennan and Frazer had developed about the religious and spiritual life of ‘savages’ (Conway 1891, 30–1; Haddon 1895, 235–305). A good example of this perspective can be found in the work Dawn of Art in the Ancient World. An Archaeological Sketch, published by the art historian W.M. Conway in 1891. The author extends the sense for aesthetics to all the populations in the world and distances himself from evolutionist positions by adopting clearly particularist approaches: ‘Thus the spiritual and intellectual products of the human mind are different at different times and in different places’ (Conway 1891, 9). In accordance with this assessment, he modifies the homogenizing, ethnocentric and categorical concept that Western thought held about aesthetics. Art would now be understood as the result of the specific ideas of a society: ‘Artists of all countries and periods are conditioned by the circumstances in which their lives are passed and by the ideas prevalent among the societies and individuals for whom they work’ (Conway 1891, 19). In the same way, the art of ‘primitive’ people, including that of the Palaeolithic period, would be directly related to their symbolic and spiritual world: ‘It is far from improbable that the animals depicted by the cave-artists were the totems of the cave-dwellers. If so, Palaeolithic man possessed germs of religious emotion [ . . . ] Thus on the far horizon of time, we behold Art and Religion coming forth hand in hand. If not generated by the same emotions, at any rate the emotions by which they are generated arise in a common atmosphere’ (Conway 1891, 31). We thus see that, in the early 1890s, certain scholars had overcome the amusement– decorative interpretation of art and did not hesitate in giving a religious meaning to the depictions produced on antler and bone objects. This resolute incorporation of religious motivation in the interpretation of primitive art can also be found in Balfour’s work, The Evolution of Decorative Art. An Essay upon its Origin and Development as Illustrated by the Art of Modern Races of Mankind (1893), and in Alfred Haddon’s Evolution in Art (1895). Both authors supposed that the artistic forms of ‘primitive’ people evolved, or rather degenerated, from an initial realist approach towards increasingly
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schematic phases (Haddon 1895, 8). Together with this formal interpretation of the art of contemporary ‘savages’, they did not hesitate in attributing to it a multitude of motivations, including the sense of the aesthetic, the transmission of information, the exhibition of wealth, magic and religion (Haddon 1895, 4–5). Indeed, the symbolic world of ‘primitive’peoples became part of the explanation of their artistic forms, and the concepts of sympathetic magic, totemism and religious symbology became key elements in the discourse (Haddon 1895, 235–305). The work of the Swedish art theoretician and historian Y. Hirn, The Origins of Art (1900), marks the culmination of this way of tackling the problem of the beginnings and evolution of artistic activity. This author does not give priority to aesthetic feelings as the driving force behind art, and instead emphasizes the utilitarian character of human creations. For him, the artistic activity of traditional societies is not a sublime thing, foreign and separate from practical needs and requirements: ‘this art is seldom free and disinterested; it has generally a usefulness real or supposed and is often even a necessity of life’ (Hirn 1900, 12). In his opinion, magic was one of the main motivations of the art of ‘savage’ societies: ‘the sorcerer who works by similarities is compelled to create a representation of things and beings in order to acquire an influence over them. Thus magical purposes call forth imitations of nature and life which, although essentially non-aesthetic in their intention, may nevertheless be of importance for the historical evolution of art’ (Hirn 1900, 283). In conclusion, during the final decade of the nineteenth century, various scholars would contribute to a new way of understanding the origin and development of artistic activity in various primitive and traditional societies: 1. The autotelic perspective presupposing that all artistic works are a beginning and an end in themselves was abandoned. In contrast with this approach, the new Aesthetics saw art as a human production intimately related with other facets of social and individual life, and positioned itself beyond a mere speculative science of beauty. The aesthetic feeling would impregnate other fields of existence: ‘Aesthetics is the study and practice of art for art’s sake, that is, for the pleasurable sensations which are induced by certain combinations of form, line, and colour [ . . . ] All men have this sense, varying from a rudimentary to an exalted extent. Though it is naturally the basis of all art work, it does not follow that the aesthetic sense has been the sole cause of decorative work. Religion and the desire to convey information have both imitated and controlled pictorial and decorative art, but the artistic sense has all along exerted its influence to a greater or less extent. The artistic feeling has endeavoured to cast a glamour of beauty over the crude efforts of religion and science’ (Haddon 1895, 200). 2. Ethnographic studies would show the difficulty in applying generic criteria to the productions of different cultures although, despite appreciating these differences, overall explanations would still be attempted for the whole of ‘primitive’ art. 3. Magic and religious symbology would become the keys to understanding and interpreting much of the art of ‘savages’.

the consideration of palaeolithic parietal art and the new conceptualization of ‘primitive art’
The superimposition of a new theoretical discourse on the origins and function of art coincided in time with a series of discoveries in France (La Mouthe, Pair-non-Pair, Chabot,
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Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume). These finds made it necessary to re-examine the question of the age of the paintings and engravings seen on the walls and ceilings of caves, a topic that had disappeared from scientific debate after the now-forgotten discovery of Altamira. The new discoveries were discussed in the most important French scientific societies until, between 1901 and 1902, the Palaeolithic chronology of cave art came to be generally accepted (Capitan and Breuil 1901a; 1901b; Cartailhac 1902). Without doubt the recent finds influenced this new evaluation, but it seems reasonable to admit that behind this turn-about there existed a profound change in scientific mentality. We have already seen how the acknowledgement of the existence of Palaeolithic religiousness did not involve a change in the way of interpreting portable art. However, a new explanation of the meaning and significance of Palaeolithic depictions ran more or less parallel to the evaluation of cave art (Coye 1997, 246). Thus the graphic depictions that had been seen during the second half of the nineteenth century as mere decorative play became, at the turn of the century, a reflection of the magic–religious thought of the Palaeolithic savages. We may therefore ask ourselves how this change was achieved and whether the new discourse that developed about the origins and nature of art played a decisive role in the process. The magic–religious exegesis of Palaeolithic art was not new. We can differentiate two key moments in the use of this explanation: 1. A series of isolated references, in some cases made quite timidly, in the 1870s and 1880s and which had no continuity in their development (Bourgeois and Delaunay 1865, 92; Piette 1873, 414–16; Bernardin 1876, 12; Reinach 1889, 234). 2. A group of proposals that were developed at the turn of the century and which were synchronic with the increasing acceptance of the antiquity of cave art (Reinach 1899, 478; 1903; Girod and Massenat 1900; Chauvet 1903, 6; Cartailhac and Breuil 1903, 10; 1906, 144–225). These no longer had an isolated character but were integrated within a general theory of the interpretation of ‘primitive art’. Thus, it cannot be chance that in the interval between these two phases there took place the renewal in artistic theory, involving the development of a different discourse on the origin and nature of art. Indeed, some of the leading researchers in the redefinition of the meaning of Palaeolithic art, such as Reinach or Breuil, acknowledge their debt to the scholars who introduced the anthropological approach into the study of art, in the final decade of the nineteenth century. It was Reinach who promoted and explained in most detail the magic–religious view of Palaeolithic art. Thus, in 1899, he stated in reference to the portable objects: ‘I have often insisted on the religious character of the bâtons de commandement and I believe that it is most legitimate, in contrast with Mortillet, to attribute cavemen with a well-developed religiousness. Perhaps, the animal figures, so frequent in their art, are evidences for some kind of totemism’ (Reinach 1899, 478). A few years later he published his outstanding paper, ‘L’Art et la magie’ (1903), where he detailed the utilitarian character of Palaeolithic artistic forms, especially cave art, and their direct relationship with sympathetic magic. In this text he does not hide his debt to authors such as Frazer (1890) or Spencer and Gillen (1899), and neither to Grosse’s work Die Anfänge der Kunst (1894) or Hirn’s The Origins of Art (1900), which are frequently cited and even paraphrased. Grosse and Hirn’s writings were the basis of the ethnographic comparisons referred to by Reinach (1903, 259–61). They equally enabled him to recognize the idea that Palaeolithic art ‘is the product of a truly artistic activity’ (ibid., 264). In addition, they were also the main
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inspirational source for his application of the idea of ‘homeopathetic’ or ‘sympathetic’ magic to the interpretation of prehistoric art (ibid., 260–3). Breuil cites Ernst Grosse’s work (Cartailhac and Breuil 1906, 236) and refers to the influence of Balfour and Haddon’s writings (Breuil 1958–1960) in the composition of his qualification thesis for the University of Fribourg. In his autobiography he acknowledges that these works were vital for his understanding of how most of the schematic and abstract forms derive, by a process of stylization, from previous naturalist forms (ibid., 154). In the same way, they made him aware of the importance of ethnographic comparisons as an approach to the interpretation of the art of the ‘Age of Reindeer’ (ibid., 192, 212). In short, we must conclude that the conceptual renewal that occurred in Art Theory in the last decade of the nineteenth century was decisive for the attainment of a new explanation for Palaeolithic art. This took place in parallel to an increasing acceptance of the antiquity of the parietal depictions and, without doubt, contributed significantly towards it. The enlargement in the concept of art and the plurality of motivations that were seen behind it, beyond the simple search for beauty, made it possible to establish a correspondence and a continuity between the motifs engraved on antler and bone objects and the parietal art. Cave art would now fit within the new magic–religious definition of ‘primitive art’: ‘It would be too much of an exaggeration to pretend that magic is the only source of art, and deny the role of the instinct of imitation, of adornment, of the social need to express and communicate thought, but the discovery of cave paintings in France and Spain, completing that of sculpted and engraved objects collected in the caves, seems to show that the great increase in art in the Age of Reindeer was related to the development of magic’ (Reinach 1903, 266).

conclusions
We have attempted to show that the redefinition undergone by Palaeolithic art in about 1900 can best be explained if it is related to the transformation that the general theory of art went through in the final decade of the nineteenth century. The extension in the concept of art enabled works that until that time had been considered as crafts or second-class creations to be included within that category. In the same way, the anthropological approach applied in the studies of the History of Art assisted the recognition of the social function of artistic activity. This made it possible to reconcile the concepts of ‘creativity’ and ‘functionality’. Hence, an artistic object, whatever its aesthetic value, fulfilled a material or symbolic function in the context of a certain society. This new discourse steadily took shape in the field of Aesthetics and Art Theory and, in fact, it was believed, through the study of primitive societies, that a meaning connected with magic and religious symbology existed behind many ‘savage’ creations. This new paradigm finally concluded that magic– religious beliefs lay at the basis of the origins of art. This discourse entered the field of prehistoric science in the last years of the nineteenth century, coinciding with the appearance of new examples of cave art in France. Within this relational framework we can highlight several points: 1. The transformation in the concept of ‘primitive art’ in the light of magic–religious utilitarianism was an approach developed by anthropologists and art historians, and only later was it incorporated into the discourse of prehistorians. 2. This new concept was applied first to the interpretation of Palaeolithic portable art and not to parietal art as is usually supposed.
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3. The addition of this new paradigm to the theoretical corpus of prehistory took place in parallel to the deliberations on parietal art. Both aspects fed back on each other, favouring the acceptance of the ancient chronology of cave art and the drafting of a new discourse on the nature and meaning of Palaeolithic art. In this initial discourse were born ideas such as ‘Palaeolithic sanctuary’, ‘initiation art’, ‘totemic images’ and ‘shamanic symbols’ that have conditioned, in modified forms, the interpretation of Palaeolithic art until the present time.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Dr Margarita Díaz Andreu (University of Durham) and Dr Pablo Arias Cabal (IIIPC) for reading and criticizing the manuscript, and to Dr Oscar Moro Abadía (Memorial University of Newfoundland) for helpful insights in regard to relevant nineteenth century literature. Finally, very special thanks must go to Dr César González Sáinz (University of Cantabria) for his constant help with this paper.

Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Prehistóricas de Cantabria (IIIPC) Edificio Interfacultativo Universidad de Cantabria Avda. de Los Castros, s/n 39005 Santander SPAIN E-mail: eduardo.palacio@unican.es

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