The art of documenting
the art

Detail from the scene known as the phallic dance from the Roca dels Moros de El Cogul (Les Garrigues). Oil painting on plaster and burlap (hessian) support. Photography by Antoni Palomo (MAC. Arxiu Històric Fotogràfic, Fons Art Rupestre)

Henri Breuil, Pioneer of Levantine art

The discovery (1879) and subsequent international acceptance of the authenticity of the paintings of Altamira (1902) attracted the great prehistorians of the time to the Iberian Peninsula, such as the French abbot Henri Breuil. Known as the father of prehistory, he was one of the pioneers in the study, documentation and discovery of many sites with Levantine rock art. From his hand, the first finds of Cretas, El Cogul, Alpera, Ayora and Yecla jumped onto the international scene on several occasions in “L’Anthropologie”, one of the most prestigious European research journals in prehistory at that time.

The MAC keeps his last drawings and annotations of unique sites from Castelló such as the Cingle de la Mola Remígia or the Racó Molero rock shelters (Ares del Maestrat, Castelló), discovered in 1934. These works were interrupted by illness he suffered and by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

Henri Breuil. Photograph of the visit made in 1956 by Henri Breuil and Martín Almagro to the Roca dels Moros, El Cogul (Les Garrigues).

The rivalry for the study of the rock art in La Valltorta

The Institute for Catalan Studies (IEC) led one of the most extraordinary research endeavours developed at the time on prehistoric art in the Iberian Peninsula: the study of the paintings of the Valltorta ravine (Castellón), discovered in 1917.

The works were controversial given the competition generated by the study of the paintings by the Commission for Palaeontological and Prehistoric Research of Madrid headed by Hugo Obermaier, which forced the two teams to divide the area under study.

The team of the IEC directed by Pere Bosch Gimpera consisted of Agustí Duran i Sanpere, Maties Pallarès and Josep Colominas, who worked intensively on the documentation of the paintings and also in the excavation of several archaeological sites. The illustrators were the painters Joan Vila i Pujol, also known as Joan d’Ivori, and Josep Triadó.

The works were published on a preliminary basis in 1920, but most of the documentation preserved in the Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia has remained practically unpublished until today.

The discovery of Levantine rock art in Catalonia

La Roca dels Moros in El Cogul (Lleida) was the first evidence of Levantine rock art found in Catalonia, in 1908, and the second of the Iberian Mediterranean façade.

The coexistence in the same panel of engravings, perhaps from the Upper Palaeolithic, of Levantine paintings with exclusive themes, such as the well-known “phallic dance”, schematic paintings and various Iberian and Roman inscriptions tells us that this site maintained outstanding cultural values over many generations.

Today we know that the famous phallic dance, in which nine women surround a male character with the phallus represented, was produced in various phases, so that pairs of women were added over time. Despite this, the result remains exceptional and unparalleled. Other figures, such as those representing various species of wildlife (deer, goats, bulls and wild boars), complete the graphic repertoire of this unique place.

Reproducción de las pinturas levantines y esquemáticas realizada para la Exposición Universal de Barcelona. Roca dels Moros, El Cogul, Les Garrigues. Reproducción sobre yeso. Autor: desconocido, 1929.

From the rock shelter to the museum

The MAC holds a unique collection of original works illustrating some of the first great discoveries of Levantine art. These works hide the efforts of prehistorians and artists such as Henri Breuil, Josep Colominas, Joan Vila, Josep Tersol, Antoni Bregante or Francisco Benítez Mellado to immortalize the findings, remove them from the rock shelter and share them with society and with the national and international scientific community.

What was initially a communication tool, became a study tool. Thus, to the first reproductions, which focused attention on isolated figures and compositions, they added new details such as the traits of the surfaces, to offer more complete and precise visions of this ancient art.

For their artistic quality, these works, produced between 1917 and 1965, are today true works of art.

Discovering what is no longer there

Today the early photographs and graphic reproductions of Levantine art preserved in the Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia, made shortly after the first discoveries, represent an artistic legacy of exceptional aesthetic and heritage value. This value is multiplied when some of these works also become the only permanent record of the existence of figures or sites that currently no longer exist, as a result of ignorance or vandalism.

This is the case of photographs and tracings held in the museums, in some cases unpublished, that meticulously reproduced the paintings of various sites of Valltorta complex of sites in Castellón, such as the Cavalls cave or the Saltadora caves rock shelters, world references in prehistoric art studies. The comprehensive understanding of these sites would not be possible today without these documents.