The Sorcerer of Trois Frères, Ariège France

Let me introduce The Sorcerer discovered in 1960 in Ariège, France. He has been regarded a mythical figure, a shaman, leading a ritual dance. The fact that he directly looks at us as if he is interrupted, is remarkable. Why is he doing that? My method of getting to know him better is through drawing him and paying attention to what I observe during the process of drawing. This I combine with research. I will never be able to see the Sorcerer, thus I fully depend on reference photos and interpretations by the man who set out to show the world all cave painting by sketching, Henri Breuil.

The Sorcerer in Trois Frères, Ariège, France

By looking at these two images, a controversy becomes immediately manifest; is Henri Breuil’s drawing a reliable copy or is it his interpretation? This has been hotly debated but I won’t go into this. I trust Jean Clottes who has asserts Breuil’s drawing after having seen the original perhaps over 20 times over many years.

Breuil’s drawing is however problematic, even if it is a truthful copy of the original rock art drawing. I start to draw the Sorcerer, scaling it up in size, working on his head. It is said that the sorcerer isn’t a shaman, it isn’t a human; it is a composite figure bringing together many drawings of Ariège cave. Here we see, the antlers of a stag, the ears of a wolf, the face of a deer, the eyes of an owl, the beard of a bison, the claws of a bear, the pose and the tail of a rearing horse, and the (hind) legs and genitalia of a man.

Drawing Sorcerer’s deer face, I run into trouble with the position of his eyes and ears. The position of the neck in relation to the head and ears is flawed. Equally flawed is the neck of the body in relation to the en-profile position of the face. A face that looks at us over one shoulder would show only one ear, the other would be obscured, visually missing, which is not the case with the Sorcerer. The antlers seem to be incorrectly positioned as well; in case a (horse or human) body is rearing to the front and the head is turned, looking to the viewer full face, then the front antler would seem bigger and the antler more positioned to the back would look a tiny bit smaller, as is not the case with Breuil’s drawing. In fact, the back antler looks bigger! This leads to the conclusion that the head is distorted. Either the painter had this in mind or as cave art is palimpsest art, meaning that painting are re-used, altered and traces of early paintings are often visible in later versions, the compositional flaws could be caused by more than one artists working at this piece of rock art over a long period of time.

The Sorcerer by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
The Sorcerer by Paula Kuitenbrouwer. The cave wall is suggested by using Conté. The drawing is done with graphite and charcoal.

The second feeling of unease that I experience whilst drawing the Sorcerer is related to the difference in style and skill regarding the head and the body. The body of the Sorcerer is very well done, technically and anatomically. We see a well proportioned horse body with a waving tail and strong human legs. But what about the head? The bison beard has no movement; the antlers seems to be done by somebody lacking drawing skills. Thus I wonder how this composite head would look like (drawn by me in this case, but I invite you to do the same). Whilst drawing all the animal attributes, I observe that this composite figure has portrayed very well chosen and formidable animal qualities. Is this portrait then an obituary to a beloved and charismatic shaman? ‘He had formidable eyesight like the eyes of an owl’. It is almost as if we hear somebody remembering him during his funeral. ‘He wore antlers of a stag and could hear with the ears of a wolf’. ‘He had such a kind face, like that of a deer’. ‘He had a well groomed beard as one of a bison’. ‘He could run like a horse, but despite his superior qualities, he was just a man’ (hence the human genitalia).

The Sorcerer and his composite head by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

The Sorcerer shape-shifts in many animals, most of them mammals. With the superior eyes of an owl, he perhaps isn’t looking at us, but trying to find his way back, through the dark, to his human body and to his community who has gathered deep inside Ariège cave. A community that thought high of him and went through huge efforts to make an intriguing portrait of him.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

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