Lascaux's abside (apse)

Of it, Bataille said that it was one of the most remarkable chambers in the cave but that one isultimately "disappointed" by it. I was not disappointed however. Indeed, what pleased and fascinated me about the Apse was exactly its cryptic and foreboding over-all hyper-totalising iconographic character granted by its boundless, palimpsestesque, wall-paper-like image explosion (what Bataille called its fouillis) of overlapping near non-photo-reproducible stock piled drawings from which, when sustained visual attention is maintained, unexpected configurations visually emerge. Here animals are superimposed in chaotic discourse, some fully and carefully rendered, others unfulfilled and left open to penetration by the environment, all commingledwith an "extraordinary confused jumble" of lines including, remarkably, the sole claviform sign in the Périgord and, even more remarkably, Lascaux's only reindeer, an animal which existed in plenitude during the period of the adornment of Lascaux. Its extensive use of superimposed multiple-operative optic perception (optic perception unifies objectsin a spatial continuum) presents the viewer with no single point of reference, no orientation, no top, no bottom, no left, no right, and no separate parts to its whole. Such visual-thought is homospatial thought then, as according to Rothenberg in The Emerging Goddess, homospatial thought is visual-thought "outside of space or spatiality" which "transcends differentiation". (Joseph Nechvatal)

Les peintures rupestres de la grotte de Lascaux

The Apse

This is a semi-spherical cavern, not unlike the apse in a Romanesque basilica, hence its name. Judging by the number of ceremonial artifacts discovered here, as well as its art, the Apse is likely to have been the sacred heart of Lascaux. Roughly 4.5 metres in diameter (15 feet), its ceiling is about 1.6 to 2.7 metres in height high (5-9 feet). Almost every square inch of its limestone walls and ceiling are covered with overlapping petroglyphs in the form of engraved drawings. In all, there are more than one thousand figures: some 500 animals (mostly deer) and 600 geometric signs or other abstract markings. The Apse accounts for more than half of the decorative art in the entire cave. Curiously, the greatest density of images occurs in the deepest part of the chamber where the Apse meets the Shaft. Notable pictures include: the 6-foot wide Major Stag - the largest petroglyph at Lascaux - the remains of several large black aurochs, the Stag with Thirteen Arrows, the Panel of the Musk Ox, the Frieze of the Painted and Engraved Stags, and the Great Sorcerer.

Lascaux Apse detail (© Norbert Aujoulat)

Nowhere is the eye permitted to linger over any detail — even though the Apse holds an immense 8.2-foot wide engraving in its midst. This is why, I think, the Apse has been ignored by art theorists (and there is only one widely published scholarly investigation of it per se, by Denis Vialou in Arlette Leroi-Gourhan’s “Lascaux Inconnu,” even though the French archaeologist André Glory spent several years trying to decipher this inextricable chamber). All the same, the Apse holds a semi-legible “index” of all of the representational forms scattered throughout the entire cave, thus making it (for me) Lascaux’s veritable conceptual center.

What pleased and fascinated me about the Apse is exactly what cannot be simulated for the public: its foreboding, cryptic, all-encompassing character, granted by its boundless palimpsests and wallpaper-like, brimming imagery. The overlapping, near-unreproducible drawings defy representation. Yet, when sustained visual attention is maintained, unexpected configurations visually emerge.

Obviously, the artists here did not work from life models, but from the overlapping, introspective depths of their visual memories. Thus the Apse is a complex mirroring of fleeting impressions, which constitute the movement of consciousness, the perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves. These are emotional experiences difficult to simulate and even more difficult to market.

Joseph Nechvatal

From the essay: What the Lascaux Caves Facsimiles Fail to Capture

Lascaux - A pré-história da arte (portuguese)