Y6 Gallery Rebels 2 : Early art

Updated: May 15, 2020

People started painting pictures long before they wrote words or built houses to live in.

In the beginning, there was cave art. Lots of examples of cave art have been worn away by the weather over thousands of years, but deep inside caves and on heavily sheltered rocks, people are still discovering ancient paintings from long, long ago.

Imagine, using the light of a fire to make drawings on the walls of the cave using burnt sticks or dirt mixed with water. Nobody is quite sure why prehistoric communities made these pictures, whether they were for decoration or as part of important ceremonies or for passing on information we don't know. We can see though that lots of effort has been put into creating them so it seems that they must have been very important to people at the time.

Looking at prehistoric works of art like this can give us clues about what the area was like many years ago.

For example,

This is a picture of the Saharan Desert in Libya now, notice how dry and desolate it is.

And here is a prehistoric cave painting from the same area, painted in 12,000 BCE (That's twelve thousand years before Jesus.)

What does this tell you about how the land has changed over time?

(The land that is now dry with very little life, was once filled with trees, plants and large animals.)

Art challenge:

Have a look around your home, what else can you find to draw with other than pens and pencils? What art could you create with just water marks on paper? Prehistoric artists had to be very resourceful for their art. What else can you find? Ask someone before you use it, but perhaps you can also create a piece of art from something unusual?

Our next Gallery Rebels post will leap forward to the exciting Renaissance period of the 15th and 16th centuries but there is so much that you can explore in-between.

You might want to find out some about:

Egyptian Art: For the ancient Egyptians, art was more than just decoration and was used to worship gods and help people journey into the afterlife. Egyptian art showed dramatic battles and scenes of everyday life. They had strict rules about showing things from the angle that was easiest to recognise, so heads, legs and arms were shown from the side and chests from the front. The ancient Egyptians also drew people on a measured grid so that they were all the same shape.

Painting in Ancient Greece: The ancient Greeks realised that if they painted onto wet plaster then the colours soaked in and didn't flake off over time. This technique called "fresco" was popular for the next 3000 years and is still used today. (We talked about this when we learnt about Frida Kahlo and Diago Rivera.) They broke some of the Egyptian's rigid rules and started showing people from all different angles. The Greeks didn't use a grid like the Egyptians did to draw on so their pictures had a more natural, flowing feel to them.

By 2500 years ago, Ancient Greece was producing some of the greatest painters, sculptors, writers and scientists - this time of amazing creativity was called the classical period.

The Romans: The Romans were the next group of keen artists that came along. Around 2000 years ago, the warlike Romans took over Greek civilisation. They were based mostly in Italy but conquered most of Europe and parts of Africa and Asia. They were proud of their huge empire but they also really admired the Greeks that came before them. Roman artists often copied Greek pictures and hired Greek painters to work for them. There was a difference in style though. The Greeks liked to make their paintings more beautiful than in real life, whereas the Romans liked to paint things just as they were - lumps, bumps, wrinkles and all. When the Romans were at their strongest, a new religion began to spread through the empire - it was called Christianity. The Romans banned it so Christians met secretly and began to paint scenes from the Bible on the walls of underground rooms.

Middle Ages: The end of the Roman Empire meant the start of difficult times in Europe as different groups battled for land and power. The constant fighting made life so difficult that most people had no time for art and culture, just surviving took all their time and effort. This time of conflict and change is called the Middle Ages and its people, art and culture are known as 'medieval'.

Some Christians carried on painting and as things gradually began to settle down, people found more time for religion and art and churches were springing up everywhere. *Look up Byzantine art. People couldn't read or write so books were no good, instead religious teachers relied on paintings and pictures to teach about the Bible so they paid artists to paint pictures of Christian stories all over the churches: on wall, on ceilings, on wooden panels and even on their glass windows. Soon, people began to notice how beautiful these paintings were and rich people wanted to buy them for their homes. Painting had now become a big business.

Choose a time period that interests you most and see what else you can find out about it.

Next stop..... The Renaissance.


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