"Image'N Magie" exhibition

Primitive art encounters the Chauvet cave in Ardèche


from June 17th to October 6th 2014

  •  Exhibition presented at the château-musée de Tournon


  • Yves Le Fur, Director of the Heritage and Collections Department at the musée du quai Branly

Scientific advisor

  • Jean-Michel Geneste, General Heritage Curator, Director of the National Prehistory Centre. Director of the Scientific Team at the Chauvet Cave

About the exhibition

Prior to the opening of the reconstruction of the Chauvet cave planned for the end of 2014, the major project La Grotte ornée du Pont-d'Arc (a.k.a. Chauvet cave) and the musée du quai Branly have created a scientific partnership offering the public a series of original exhibitions. 

These exhibitions are composed of works belonging to the musée du quai Branly which provide echoes and resonances and offer an insight into the Palaeolithic works. The first, entitled "Chasses magiques" (magical hunts), was presented at the Château de Vogüé in summer 2013. The second, entitled "Image n’Magie" will be presented at the château-musée de Tournon.

From the beginnings of art itself in Prehistory, artists have been able to create and master the power of images. Painted cave walls demonstrate that they used all of the resources available to them – lines, surfaces, colors, materials and volumes – to invent complex and animated imagery. The viewer is invited to explore the images within the image, where multiplications, superimpositions and rotations constantly create not illusions but magical effects.

In a sublime proliferation, the images from the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave demonstrate a blending of the imitation of the real and abstraction. They seem constantly recreated in relation to spectators whose vision is consequently displaced.

The exhibition shows that numerous cultures in Oceania, Africa and the Americas have also used these techniques with great virtuosity. Bi-stable images, inverted figures or images contained within other images are used to depict magical or wondrous magical apparitions intended to captivate the viewer.

Shield, inv 72.1966.2.6 © musée du quai Branly, photo by Claude Germain


The arts of the Gulf of Papua were the most prolific in combined images. The examples shown in the exhibition are items relating to initiation, bullroarers, musical instruments or clan boards. 

The figures of spirits painted on the shields protected the warrior who animated them by rotating the shield as he confronted the enemy. Some objects decorated ceilings: their reversed and symmetrical motifs change depending on the spectator's position.

Some Aboriginal paintings are also presented in this section.

Zoomorphic facial mask, inv. 73.1996.1.56 © musée du quai Branly, photo by Claude Germain



In Africa, masks were both political and religious entities. They could entertain but also initiate, arbitrate, judge or punish. As vessels for spirits, they served as intermediaries between humans and the supernatural forces of the brush and the forest. African masks are therefore very often compositions that combine human and animal forms. These assemblages contained symbolic messages depending on the qualities or defects associated with these animals. The repetition of faces marks the "omniscient" power of the mask, which controlled the different directions and saw everything.


The motifs presented in this section employ double representation, a technique omnipresent across the north-west coast of North America. A face seen from the front is rendered by two symmetrical profiles. The double representation combines with the principle of a cellular and saturated treatment: each component of the face or the body is isolated, becoming a unit juxtaposed with others leaving the least possible space between them.

audiovisual programme

This film depicts the development of female representation during the Palaeolithic period of European prehistory between 36,000 and 17,000 years B.C.

Alongside earlier works of rock art, we see a number of exceptional sculptures that mark the invention of these first images.

The statuettes presented are replicas produced in accordance with contemporary archaeological knowledge.

Partner institutions

the decorated Chauvet Pont-d'Arc Cave

Discovered on 18th December 1994 at Vallon-Pont-d'Arc by three amateur cavers: Jean-Marie Chauvet, Eliette Brunel and Christian Hillaire, the Chauvet Pont-d’Arc cave constitutes one of the most ancient Palaeolithic jewels of cave art known in the world today, with paintings dating from 36,000 years ago.

The bestiary of this Ardéchoise cave is also the largest in all of the decorated caves in the world, with 425 representations of animals (14 species represented). Finally, the Aurignacian painters of the Chauvet Pont-d’Arc Cave were the first to use the techniques of shading and perspective.

The creation of a reconstruction in which the main paintings and works by the artists of the decorated Chauvet Pont-d’Arc Cave will be faithfully reproduced will enable the greatest number of visitors to appreciate this treasure of humanity. Supported by the Region Rhône-Alpes and the Conseil Général of the Ardèche, the French State and the European Union, this cultural site will open in late 2015 at Vallon-Pont-d'Arc.

the chateau-musee of Tournon sur Rhone

Located on the banks of the Rhône, in the centre of the town, the château of Tournon, is a classified historic monument which essentially dates to the 15th and 16th centuries. 

The château-musée's collections extend from the Renaissance to today. They contain objects relating to river navigation, the history of the bridges designed by Marc Seguin, the history of the château and the town, including the fine arts: sculpture, paintings, drawings and engravings...

with the support of

  • The Rhône-Alpes region
  • The Ardèche department 
  • Scientific Council of the Major Project "La Caverne du Pont d'Arc"
  • The city of Tournon
  • The territorial community Hermitage-Tournonais