I had thought that the earliest landscape paintings in Europe were those on the Greek island of Santorini (Thera), which was destroyed by a huge volcanic eruption in about 1627 BC, illustrated here.
It now looks as if Sébastien Nomade and his colleagues have found what is most likely to be landscape art dating from around 36,000 years ago, in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave in the Ardèche, France. They report their discovery in a paper which has just been published electronically in the Open Access scientific journal PLOS ONE.
The cave system was only discovered in 1994, and has already attained World Heritage status because of the significance of the many cave paintings which it contains. A sample from this painting has been dated to around 36,000 years before the present, a time long before the last Ice Age, which peaked around 20,000 years ago.
The painting in question is part of a panel known as Megaloceros, from the animal which it depicts, and is shown in Nomade et al’s figure (B) above. In C, they show the time sequence of the layers in the painting, which contains a distant volcanic cone (black), together with white material spewing from a location closer to the viewer. The animal was then superimposed at a later date.
So perhaps the full citation of the work should read:
Anonymous, Volcano in Eruption (c 36,000 BP), pigment on limestone mural, 60 x 60 cm, Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave, Ardèche, France.
If you are interested in another probable depiction of an ancient volcanic eruption, then Schmitt et al. (2014), also in PLOS ONE, discusses one from about 8600 years ago, in the rich Turkish archaeological site at Çatalhöyük.
However, this latest finding is not only far older, but is visually much more impressive – it is extraordinary and profoundly moving to be able to see today what one of the first humans in Europe saw and painted.
The photo in B was taken by D Genty, and the images in C by V Feruglio and D Baffier. These images are © 2016 Nomade et al.