Levantine art.
The art of people

Rock paintings are an extremely fragile element, exposed to atmospheric, geological and also anthropic factors, which can endanger them.
Cocó de la Gralla shelter, Mas de Barberans (Montsià), Photo: Josep Castells. Servei d’Arqueologia i Paleontologia, Departament de Cultura, Generalitat de Catalunya

After the ice

11,700 years ago, with the retreat of glacial ice, Palaeolithic figurative art disappeared in South-western Europe. All we know of the hunter-gatherer communities that inhabited these lands are just a few samples of portable art with geometric designs. An improving climate favoured forest expansion, while the use of the bow became widespread.

About 7,500 years ago, fully Neolithic groups arrived at the Mediterranean coastal strip from afar, bringing with them extraordinary innovations, such as the domestication of plants and animals, ceramics, the scythe or polished stone tools.

The newcomers developed two new artistic traditions, including both rock and portable art, known as macro-schematic and schematic art.
Simplified sketches of humans and animals (only in schematic art) and geometric shapes (in macro-schematic and schematic) illustrated a new way of relating to nature.

The birth of narrative art

At some point in the early post-glacial era, between 11,700 and 7,000 years ago, the Mediterranean side of Iberia is the scene of an unprecedented turn in the history of art in Europe: the birth of narrative art.

Levantine art introduces significant changes in subject matter and in the way figures are arranged in the panels. Now, for the first time, scenes full of dynamism and movement innovatively change the way stories are told visually.

Humans, and their clothing, ornaments and tools, previously unseen in the art, become the main focus of scenes illustrating hunting tactics, battles, executions,
territorial marches, honey harvesting, motherhood, death or other enigmatic activities.

Fragment of Levantine rock painting known as “Arquer de la Valltorta”. Cave of the Horses. Tírig, Castelló. Mesolithic / Neolithic (8,200-4,500 years before present). Cervera Museum, Valltorta Museum.

Painted landscapes

The uniqueness of the Mediterranean landscapes attracted the attention of the Levantine populations, who filled the walls of rock shelters and cliffs distributed along the main waterways of the region with paintings and engravings.

These places served as natural communication routes and facilitated the circulation of ideas and people for generations.

The successive accumulation of figures and scenes of various styles on the same panels reveals that the paintings were used to recall the cultural values of these places, sometimes hidden, sometimes prominent.

Images and symbols in Levantine art

Levantine artists show a great knowledge of the wildlife they paint: deer, wild goats, wild boars, aurochs and, less frequently, horses, carnivores or insects. However, vegetation is scarce.

Now the undisputed protagonists are humans, with anatomical features (hair, noses or beards), all kinds of ornaments (head-dresses, bracelets or ribbons), clothing (short and long pants, or skirts) and equipment (bows, arrows, quivers, bags,
baskets and boomerangs).

The origin of this art is debated. For some it was created by the last postglacial hunter-gatherers. For others, on the other hand, it is a Neolithic art, despite the lack of representations of agriculture and livestock. The themes depicted (hunting, war or death) are common to both ways of life, thus leaving the debate open.

The Levantine palette

Levantine artists painted on rock canvases outdoors, inside and outside the rock shelters. Therefore, firelight was no longer essential to tell stories, legends or traditions.
Likewise, portable art, so important in the Palaeolithic, disappeared from this world.

The diversity of techniques and forms of application of earlier Palaeolithic painting is now reduced to the use of paintbrushes, sometimes very fine, to outline monochrome, and exceptionally bichrome, silhouettes. Only a handful of recent finds, with finely engraved human figures, hint that this technique was also known to Levantine artists.

The palette of the new painters is similar to that of other prehistoric artists, with black, red and sometimes white tones obtained from nature and transformed into paints, once mixed with natural binders.

Artistic techniques of levantine art. A. Painting / B. Engraving