see catalogue pieces


Art historians define masterpieces as works that show technical virtuosity, ground breaking skill and originality of approach. In the cave of Altamira many of the images are painted with extraordinary skill and accomplishment. The confident lines and polychrome colouring conjure up the animate world of nature charged with a sense of supernatural power. Reality is seen and suffused with imagination. The viewer is enthralled and has no sense that the image could be improved. The pioneering quality of the images is recognisable and crosses the time barrier creating a link with a past culture different from any still in existence. This emotional connection established in the absence of memory and history is neurological and stems from minds powered by the same complex modern brain. This provides the capacity to recognise the quality of the gestures and expressions captured in image and the ability to appreciate a masterpiece regardless of the material from which it is created, its context or its age.

Among the small works of art made towards the end of the last Ice Age there are a number of masterpieces that show exceptional craftsmanship and artistry. Along with the many good pieces, they suggest the work of practised specialists who may have influenced or guided others in the use of some of the recurring subjects, details and motifs. Despite their size the masterpieces of portable art have a remarkable presence and numinous power usually associated with but sometimes lost in the monumental scale of later ages.

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