Why, in Chauvet’s cave or in Lascaux’s, did the itch to represent animals give the crucial impulse to the birth of art? And why did animals have reigned so long on figurative art? Renaud Ego tries to answer to those questions shedding light on the images’ singular effectiveness. Images were a means to establish a contact between men and the world and more, to reflect it and act on it. To illustrate his point, the author draws from one among the most beautiful rock art, that of Austral African San, that the extraordinary iconography of the book immortalizes in its splendour and virtuosity. Hunters and gatherers have painted and carved on the rocks the fauna with whom they shared their lives. Some animals, such as the Cap’s eland, the biggest species of the antelope, are watched at with fascination, as if their exuberantly shaped and ornate bodies had been the key of a knowledge that was kept secret by the animals’ troubling silence. The San have tried to steal that secret by capturing them in the paintings through a non-violent, but highly prestigious act that aimed at making visible what was still hidden in the heart of appearance. They thus became those seeing animals who, thanks to their new talent of image makers, could develop a visionary power. By inventing a fabulous bestiary, peopled by imaginary creatures, as in the composition of scenes that are visual pacts with the ancestral powers, they could enter the spiritual dimension of their full humanity. More than an enchantment, their art is an act aiming at preserving the integrity of a life in harmony with the world and with all the beings that people it, either real or imaginary.
© Renaud Ego, 2015