Ancient camel sculptures discovered in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia: High relief of standing dromedary on sandstone spur at center of image. Credit: © CNRS/MADAJ, R. Schwerdtner

From the CNRS in France:

Rock art: Life-sized sculptures of dromedaries found in Saudi Arabia

February 13, 2018

At a remarkable site in northwest Saudi Arabia, a CNRS archaeologist)1 and colleagues from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) have discovered camelid sculptures unlike any others in the region. They are thought to date back to the first centuries BC or AD.)2 The find sheds new light on the evolution of rock art in the Arabian Peninsula and is the subject of an article published in Antiquity (February 2018).

Located in the province of Al Jawf in northwest Saudi Arabia, Camel Site, as it is known, was explored in 2016 and 2017 by a Franco-Saudi research team. The sculptures, some incomplete, were executed on three rocky spurs there. Though natural erosion has partly destroyed some of the works, as well as any traces of tools, the researchers were able to identify a dozen or so reliefs of varying depths representing camelids and equids. The life-sized sculpted animals are depicted without harnessing in a natural setting. One scene in particular is unprecedented: it features a dromedary meeting a donkey, an animal rarely represented in rock art. Some of the works are thus thematically very distinct from the representations often found in this region. Technically, they also differ from those discovered at other Saudi sites — frequently simple engravings of dromedaries without relief — or the sculpted facades of Al Ḩijr (Madâ’in Şâliḩ). In addition, certain Camel Site sculptures on upper rock faces demonstrate indisputable technical skills. Camel Site can now be considered a major showcase of Saudi rock art in a region especially propitious for archaeological discovery.

Though the site is hard to date, comparison with a relief at Petra (Jordan) leads the researchers to believe the sculptures were completed in the first centuries BC or AD. Its desert setting and proximity to caravan routes suggest Camel Site — ill suited for permanent settlement — was a stopover where travelers could rest or a site of worship.


[1] The archaeologist is a research engineer at the Orient et Méditerranée research unit (CNRS / Sorbonne University / University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne / EPHE / Collège de France). This project involves another researcher in France, from the TRACES research unit (CNRS / University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès / French Ministry of Culture and Communication).

[2] These discoveries were made within the scope of the Dumat al Jandal archaeological project, directed by researchers Guillaume Charloux (CNRS) and Romolo Loreto (University of Naples L’Orientale), and supported by the SCTH; the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Labex RESMED, part of the French Investissements d’Avenir program; and the French Center for Archaeology and Social Sciences (CEFAS).

Fortunately for the makers of these sculptures, some 2,000 years ago the present regime in Saudi Arabia was not in power.

As Saudi Arabia is not just the only country in the world practicing the death penalty by beheading.

As far as I know, it also is the only country where making snowmen, or snow camels (or snow turtles‘; or snow dinosaurs) is illegal.

Illegal snow camel in Saudi Arabia


Humans better at visual arts than Neanderthals. why?

This video says about itself:

CARTA: Evolutionary Origins of Art and Aesthetics: Art in Neanderthal and Paleolithic Cultures

Did our early ancestors produce art? Or do modern humans only think they did? In this episode of the CARTA series Evolutionary Origins of Art and Aesthetics, join renowned scientists Jean-Jacques Hublin and Randall White in an exploration of the notions of creativity and aesthetics as seen in Neanderthal and Paleolithic cultures. Series: CARTA – Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny [6/2009]

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

Neanderthals‘ lack of drawing ability may relate to hunting techniques

Spear-throwing gave Homo sapiens better eye-hand coordination, smarter brains

February 9, 2018

Visual imagery used in drawing regulates arm movements in manner similar to how hunters visualize the arc of a spear. Neanderthals had large brains and made complex tools but never demonstrated the ability to draw recognizable images, unlike early modern humans who created vivid renderings of animals and other figures on rocks and cave walls. That artistic gap may be due to differences in the way they hunted, suggests a University of California, Davis, expert on predator-prey relations and their impacts on the evolution of behavior.

Neanderthals used thrusting spears to bring down tamer prey in Eurasia, while Homo sapiens, or modern humans, spent hundreds of thousands of years spear-hunting wary and dangerous game on the open grasslands of Africa.

Richard Coss, a professor emeritus of psychology, says the hand-eye coordination involved in both hunting with throwing spears and drawing representational art could be one factor explaining why modern humans became smarter than Neanderthals.

In an article recently published in the journal Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, Coss examines archaeological evidence, genomics, neuroscience studies, animal behavior and prehistoric cave art.

New theory of evolution

From this, he proposes a new theory for the evolution of the human brain: Homo sapiens developed rounder skulls and grew bigger parietal cortexes — the region of the brain that integrates visual imagery and motor coordination — because of an evolutionary arms race with increasingly wary prey.

Early humans hunted with throwing spears in sub-Saharan Africa for more than 500,000 years — leading their increasingly watchful prey to develop better flight or fight survival strategies, Coss said.

Some anthropologists have suggested that throwing spears from a safe distance made hunting large game less dangerous, he said. But until now, “No explanation has been given for why large animals, such as hippos and Cape buffalo, are so dangerous to humans”, he said. “Other nonthreatening species foraging near these animals do not trigger alert or aggressive behavior like humans do.”

Drawn from earlier research on zebras

Coss’ paper grew out of a 2015 study in which he and a former graduate student reported that zebras living near human settlements could not be approached as closely before fleeing as wild horses when they saw a human approaching on foot — staying just outside the effective range of poisoned arrows used by African hunters for at least 24,000 years.

Neanderthals, whose ancestors left Africa for Eurasia before modern human ancestors, used thrusting spears at close range to kill horses, reindeer, bison, and other large game that had not developed an innate wariness of humans, he said.

Hunting relates to drawing

“Neanderthals could mentally visualize previously seen animals from working memory, but they were unable to translate those mental images effectively into the coordinated hand-movement patterns required for drawing”, Coss writes.

Coss, who taught drawing classes early in his academic career and whose previous research focused on art and human evolution, used photos and film to study the strokes of charcoal drawings and engravings of animals made by human artists 28,000 to 32,000 years ago in the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France.

The visual imagery employed in drawing regulates arm movements in a manner similar to how hunters visualize the arc their spears must make to hit their animal targets, he concludes.

These drawings could have acted as teaching tools. “Since the act of drawing enhances observational skills, perhaps these drawings were useful for conceptualizing hunts, evaluating game attentiveness, selecting vulnerable body areas as targets, and fostering group cohesiveness via spiritual ceremonies”, he writes.

As a result, the advent of drawing may have set the stage for cultural changes, Coss said. “There are enormous social implications in this ability to share mental images with group members.”

Prude Spanish priest censors picture of saint

From Dutch NOS TV today about this picture:

‘Too sexy’ painting of apostle removed from Spanish church

A painting of the apostle Saint James (Santiago) was removed from a church in the Spanish town Membrilla because it was supposedly be too ‘sexy’. In the painting, the apostle wears a tunic and a bare thigh and two bare knees can be seen.

Painter Antonio Ximénez is furious and asks the parish priest for explanation, writes the radio station SER. He demands that the painting be shown again or returned.


The 87-year-old artist made the painting years ago, commissioned by the previous parish priest, a friend, and donated it to his birthplace. He now lives in Miami.

Does this priest know that in most crucifixes in Roman Catholic churches, Jesus Christ wears only a loincloth?

Many pictures intended for churches, by Hieronymus Bosch and other ancient painters, show completely naked people. Does this priest know?

Where was this priest when his fellow clergy in Spain and elsewhere abused children sexually, and the church hierarchy covered that up?

Where was this priest when a right-wing Spanish politician condoned rape?

Where was this priest when a right-wing Spanish archbishop condoned rape?

Especially for that priest-censor, this music video.

The video is called Right Said Fred – I’m Too Sexy (Original Mix – 2006 Version).

African Cuban artist interviewed


By Graham Douglas in Britain:

Monday, February 5, 2018

Interview: Rastaman with a mission

Cuban artist LESTER McCOLLIN SPRINGER talks to Graham Douglas about what drives him on

LESTER McCOLLIN SPRINGER is a Rasta artist from Las Tunas in the east of Cuba, whose vibrant images combine expressiveness with abstraction.

Many of them feature women, not as sweet playthings but as powerful bearers of their African roots and colonial history in the Caribbean.

Aged 40, he’s a serious artist, not conforming to the laid-back, ganja-smoking image of Rastafarians.

His work is known and respected in Cuba, yet, in Britain where he’s currently based, his talent has struggled to be recognised. In this interview, he talks about his artistic dedication in the face of opposition and misunderstanding and the importance of Rastafarianism in his life.

When did you start painting?

From age four, I started to draw in books, magazines and exercise books. Anywhere I could find a space to draw, on any blank space, I would leave my mark.

This got me in trouble with my mother and the teachers. The pressure for me to give up art started from an early age. I suffered the refusal and disrespect of my father, the only great detractor that I have known until today since he, like many at that time, considered the arts as a weakness in all its aspects and as a non-respectable profession.

I owe my further development and maturity to my mother, to Raul Alvarino who became my teacher when I was seven and to a cousin [who was an] artist, Jorge Eversley.

No-one has inspired in me more respect than the teachers in Las Tunas, where I studied art until the age of 21, when I graduated as a professional artist. Their aesthetics differ from mine, but the consistency and discipline in their work are elements that I appreciate.

How do you choose your subjects?

Most of my themes are socially related, while some are from a more intimate perspective. In 1998, I chose to give a black aesthetic to my work because I understood that what I best knew was myself as a black person, my family and the people closest to me, not all of whom were black.

I decided to pay homage to my ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa. What makes my art distinctive is images of Rastafarian men and women.

My beginnings as a professional were influenced by the naive current. Then, with experimentation, I became more expressionist in terms of form and colour. I created a symbology which, after almost 20 years of hard work, has made my art unique.

Collections like So Much Things to Say, Jardin de los Mil Suspiros (Garden of a Thousand Sighs), Trapped Voices and Ashe are a demonstration of this. I paint houses inside bodies as symbols of our diversity as Caribbean people and as human beings, keys symbolise the challenges that we face in passing through life, female bodies and Rastamen are core elements in my work and reflect mother nature, the Antilles, our ancestors.

They are my extension, my vision in each moment of my life. They motivate me to communicate with the world around me.

What does Rastafarian culture mean for you?

Rastafarian culture is the basis on which I build my life. I keep learning about it, it is a process of evolution, where respect for African roots prevails, respect for life in general, the relationship between human beings and nature.

I use only Rastafarian aesthetics, symbology, colours and figures to convey a message of rebellion, of acceptance of my roots. Rasta philosophy belongs to human beings in any part of the world. In my artwork, love, loss of love, history are very specific to my Caribbean heritage.

What do you think about the misogynistic attitudes common among many Rasta men?

I understand that there are some misogynist attitudes within it, but from what I have experienced I do not believe that it is what characterises the movement.

We Rastamen have a solid, important, necessary and eternal bond with women. We are grateful to life for them. Women are not simply our other half. We and they are as one. There are no differences from a human point of view.

Being misogynist would be completely illogical. It would go against our philosophy, concepts, ways of living and I dare say the origins of humankind. If you know my work, you would see that being misogynist has no place. By representing the female figure in many contexts, forms and interpretations I reinforce my position as a Rastaman and a human being who rejects all forms of discrimination.

I show my respect to our companeras as an artist and a Rastaman. Regardless of the many different opinions, experiences, social status and whatever defines gender differences, I intend to express my tribute to women.

Rastamen respect their female energy because it is important to recognise they are part of us as we are part of them, we are joined in pure harmony with the universe. Women are half of humanity and are respected by Rastafarianism in contrast to the image created by some rap lyrics. My way of seeing and identifying with the world is rooted in that culture.

Did you work as an artist in Cuba before you left?

I worked as a teacher in art school and in a gallery of small-scale sculptures, the only one of its kind in Cuba. Meanwhile, I kept producing my art pieces, absorbing from the experience and expertise of my colleagues who are excellent professionals.

It proved quite challenging as my strong personality and strict discipline were not always well received. This unfulfilling experience put me off teaching art, although I am grateful for what I learnt.

After approximately 20 years of professional work as an artist, I have shown work in 70 exhibitions, in different countries. In Cuba, despite the challenges, I always had many opportunities to exhibit, including key events like the Festival del Fuego in Santiago de Cuba.

In Jamaica, Poland, England and Belgium I did not know the art scene, so I exhibited in small venues such as cafes, community centres, libraries, theatres and town-hall spaces. More recently, I have worked particularly in Brighton and Hove.

What is it like to be a black non-British artist in Britain?

I have not encountered either support or discrimination for being a black foreign artist in this country.

My art is irreverent. The colours are bold, powerful, pure. In my work, I carry all the warmth and colours of the Caribbean, all the passion of my soul. And, as I am not orthodox or apologetic, I hit against the cultural, social and aesthetic barriers of British culture.

In Cuba, talent is valued greatly. You can be black, white, red or yellow — what counts is talent. As a black artist, I built my name and developed as an artist in Cuba. I am not only black. I endorse universal themes through a black aesthetic and this has been respected.

What future plans do you have?

My most coveted project is Wingless Angel, which is promoting the art of my Cuban colleagues here in Britain through a series of exhibitions. It will generate funds to be reinvested in the project. Some of the proceeds will go towards institutions that work with children with disabilities or terminal illnesses. I value their work immensely.

I need financial help, as I aim to produce maybe over 100 pieces in big formats, paintings, sculptures, prints and to cover the transport of Cuban colleagues’ work, logistics and marketing. I want to promote exhibitions in other countries, especially the EU, to expose our Cuban art to a wide and diverse public, start conversations and exchange ideas.

And I would like artists of other nationalities to join the project, so it can be enriched with cultural and spiritual diversity.

Details of The Wingless Angel project are available at This interview first appeared in Sounds and Colours, a website and print publication focused on South American music and culture,

Surinamese artist Erwin de Vries, RIP

This video from the Netherlands says about itself (translated):

The Surinamese sculptor and painter Erwin de Vries will be eighty years old on 21 December 2009 and will be active in that profession for 60 years. The Kunsthal Rotterdam honors The Grand Old Master from Suriname with a retrospective exhibition. Over one hundred and twenty-five works, including paintings, drawings and sculptures from the nineteen fifties to the present, provide a multifaceted picture of his extensive oeuvre.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

The Surinamese artist Erwin de Vries died last night after a short-term illness in a hospital in his home town of Paramaribo. He leaves behind a large oeuvre, of which the National Slavery Monument in the Oosterpark in Amsterdam is one of the most famous works.

This 2017 video is about a Surinamese Winti religious ceremonial cleansing of Erwin de Vries’ slavery monument in Amsterdam.

The NOS article continues:

He [De Vries] also made many depictions of celebrities, eg in the Netherlands of politician Joop den Uyl, writer Simon Carmiggelt, cabaret artist Toon Hermans and footballer Clarence Seedorf. In Paramaribo there are images of him from, eg, the politicians Arron and Lachmon and the only survivor of the December murders, trade union leader Fred Derby.

De Vries (born in 1929) has been a prolific and successful sculptor and painter since the 1950s. He was influenced for some time by the Cobra movement and had solo exhibitions in, among other places, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Rotterdam Kunsthal, in Jamaica and in other countries. …

He was born in Paramaribo and came to the Netherlands in 1949 for training as a drawing teacher. Later he went to the Rijksacademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam.

This 16 March 2008 video says about itself:

The making of a sculpture of Barack Obama, by the well-known Surinamese Artist, Erwin de Vries.

Obama was then not yet president of the USA; he was only a presidential candidate fighting for the Democratic party nomination against Hillary Clinton.

Painter Vermeer, film reviewed

This video says about itself:

Exhibition on Screen: Vermeer and Music. Cinema Trailer

The 3rd film in the EXHIBITION ON SCREEN series, Vermeer and Music: the Art of Love and Leisure at the National Gallery London, hit cinema screens worldwide on Thursday 10th October 2013.

On 28 January 2018, I went to see this film. The London exhibition which the film is about was unique, as Vermeer paintings depicting music were exhibited together for the first time. Vermeer depicted musical instruments and people playing them quite often: on one-third of the paintings known to be by him, 12 out of 36.

Vermeer made more paintings than 36: probably about 50. Not that many: he worked slowly and meticulously. And he lived 1632-1675, dying at only 43 years old.

What do we know about Vermeer‘s life? Not much. We don’t have writings by the painter on his works or other subjects. He did not give his paintings titles. Like older Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. Like with Bosch, this means there are many hypotheses on his art of which we don’t know whether they are true or not.

Let us compare Vermeer to his older contemporaries Rubens and Rembrandt. All three lived in the Low Countries, ruled in the sixteenth century by the king of Spain. In 1568, the Low Countries revolted against excessive taxation of the urban bourgeoisie by the absolute monarchy, and the Spanish’s Inquisition’s persecution of Protestants. Spanish armed forces managed to crush the rebellion in the southern provinces (roughly, what is now Belgium). However, in 1648 Spain had to recognize the independence of the northern provinces (roughly, what is now the Netherlands).

The newly independent Dutch state was special for being a republic instead of a monarchy like other European countries. Its ruling class were, unlike elsewhere, not nobles with an emperor or king on top of a hierarchical pyramid, but mainly urban bourgeois. This social and political change also made for a change in art in the seventeenth century. In most European countries, artists were then still dependent on princes and other feudal aristocrats; and, where Roman Catholicism was the state religion, on the Roman Catholic hierarchy. That was also true for Rubens’ Spanish Netherlands (roughly: present Belgium).

In the European seventeenth century, the establishment view on art considered Christian religious, historical and ancient Roman mythological subjects to be the most noble ones for painting. Catholic church dignitaries commissioned religious work; secular aristocrats commissioned historical and mythological art which often made complimentary allusions to seventeenth century monarchs and nobles.

But the new Dutch republic was different. There, the new urban bourgeois rulers wanted art which they could relate to their own lives more. Money to buy art was more widespread than in other countries; seventeenth century Dutch artists made millions of paintings. Also, often on different subjects than traditionally or still customary abroad.

As this blog has mentioned before, Rembrandt in the northern independent republic made less religious art and far less historical and mythological art than Rubens in the southern Roman Catholic Spanish Netherlands.

How does Vermeer fit in this? Let us look at the Wikipedia list of 34 works ‘firmly attributed to Vermeer’. According to the London National Gallery and the film, two other works, including A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, should be added to make 36.

Of these 36 works, only one depicts Roman mythology, Diana and her Companions, maybe Vermeer’s earliest painting. So, less than 3% of his oeuvre, even less than Rembrandt, far less than Rubens. Vermeer, a burgher of Delft city, fitted in the new art of the new republic.

How about Christian religious art? Only two of the 36 paintings, 5,5%. There used to be a third one, The Supper at Emmaus; however, it turned out to be a twentieth century forgery by Han van Meegeren.

So, considerable less religious art by Vermeer than by Rembrandt, let alone Rubens. Of these two religious paintings, one is an early work. The other one is The Allegory of Faith. It is special, at it was probably commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church which did not buy much art in the seventeenth century Dutch republic. Far less so than in Rubens’ Spanish Netherlands where it was the official church. Like Rubens, Vermeer had been born in a Protestant family, but converted to Roman Catholicism later. In Vermeer’s case, to be able to marry his wife.

Vermeer, The Allegory of the Faith

The Allegory of Faith is unlike most other Roman Catholic religious paintings. One might expect a depiction of Saint Peter’s Church in Rome, or some smaller but still big church. Instead, it depicts the interior of an urban house, like so many of Vermeer’s works. Roman Catholic services were only allowed in the Dutch republic in buildings which did not look like churches on the outside.

70% of Rembrandt’s work is portraits or self-portraits. 0% of Vermeer’s work is (a detail in one painting may be a self-portrait, but that is not certain).

The overwhelming majority of Vermeer’s work, over 90% is genre painting, plus a few in the cityscapes category. These two categories were not favourite subjects for Rubens: too ‘bourgeois’ for the Spanish Netherlands. Not favourite subjects for Rembrandt because of personal preference. However, Vermeer’s genre painting fitted in well with the Dutch Republic’s new urban upper class; like the portraits which Rembrandt preferred.

As the film notes, there are contradictions between Vermeer’s life and his work. His art usually has a peaceful, quiet atmosphere; but the painter lived in a probably noisy house with eleven children.

Vermeer also often depicted affluent persons at home, but he was not rich himself. In 1672, the Dutch republic was at war with France and other enemies. The art market collapsed and Vermeer became poor. The shock of poverty killed him in 1675.

Vermeer did not become famous initially. In the nineteenth century, French art critic Théophile Thoré-Bürger rescued him from undeserved oblivion. Thoré-Bürger was a radical democrat who praised the realism of his socialist contemporary Gustave Courbet. Though an opponent of French Roman Catholic clericalism, he appreciated Roman Catholic Vermeer for depicting mainly scenes from urban daily life, not religious or historical themes, still considered superior by the nineteenth century art establishment.

After this rediscovery, Vermeer’s paintings became dramatically more expensive, making lots of money more than the maker ever made; like happened to many other artists. 12 out of 36 paintings are now in the USA.

The film contains various interviews, including with Tracy Chevalier, author of the novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, inspired by the painting of the same name.

New research on Girl with the pearl earring: here.