Early art of Northern Europe

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Stone Age European Art

many horses cave painting
A herd of horses
(Chauvet cave, France, ca. 30,000 BC)

The first modern humans who arrived in Northern Europe, around 45,000 BC, don't seem to have made any art. But by around 30,000 BC, around the time that the last of the Neanderthals died, the modern humans began to paint vivid, exciting scenes on the walls of the caves where they lived and worked. This may be about the same time that people in South Africa also started to do rock art.

head of a woman with long hair
First carving of a human face
(Brassempouy, France, ca. 25000 BC)

Not long after they started painting, these people were also carving small stone and ivory statues of people and animals. Some of these may have had a religious purpose, but they could also be for decoration or for artistic expression (if there was even any difference).

cave painting of a horse
Lascaux cave painting of a horse (ca. 13,000 BC)
two clay statuettes of sitting people
A thinking man and a sitting woman, Cernavoda, Romania, ca. 5000 BC

European artists continued to create new cave paintings, off and on, until about 8000 BC, but after that, people in Northern Europe seem to have lost interest in painting animals or carving people, and instead they created only abstract patterns and designs. Further south, in Spain, Italy, Romania, and southern France, they continued to paint and sculpt people into the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, along with geometric designs.

Learn by doing: painting rock art
More about Bronze Age European art

Bibliography and further reading about early European art:

More about Northern Europe
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Copyright 2012-2015 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated August 2015.

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