Cavemen Were Better At Animal Art Than Leonardo Da Vinci
    By News Staff | December 6th 2012 05:30 AM | 10 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Prehistoric artists wanted to tell a story as accurately as possible, and so they were better at portraying the walk of four-legged animals than modern man, according to a new paper. 

    Most quadrupeds have a similar sequence in which they move each limb as they walk, trot or run, and this sequence was studied and outlined in the early 1880s by Eadweard Muybridge.

     The authors examined 1000 works of prehistoric and modern artwork ranging from cave paintings of cows and elephants to statues and paintings of horses, elephants and other quadrupeds in motion to see how well these artistic depictions matched the scientific observations of animal motion. 

    They found that the majority of depictions of these animals walking or trotting had their legs incorrectly positioned, but the prehistoric paintings had the lowest error rates of 46.2%, whereas modern "pre-Muybridgean" art depicted animal motion incorrectly 83.5% of the time - even though only 73.3% would be mere chance.  Even Leonardo da Vinci 

    This error rate decreased to 57.9% after 1887. Whether these differences were due to artistic license with imagery or lack of understanding of animal movement isn't clear, say the authors. 

    What animal did artists draw incorrectly most often?  Horses, the authors say.  Even Leonardo da Vinci got that wrong.  Remember that the next time you are making fun of Picasso.

    An erroneous modern, pre-Muybridgean horse drawing of Leonardo da Vinci. (A, B) The erroneous horse drawing fits into the cell Eh of the walking matrix. (A) Picture of the graphic art. (B) Schematic drawing of the horse. (C, D) Two possible corrections of the horse: C keeps the postures of the hind legs and corrects the attitudes of the fore legs, thus falls into the cell Gh of the walking matrix. D, keeping the postures of the fore legs and correcting the attitudes of the hind legs, belongs to the cell Ee of the walking matrix. Credit: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049786.g004

    Citation: Horvath G, Farkas E, Boncz I, Blaho M, Kriska G (2012) Cavemen Were Better at Depicting Quadruped Walking than Modern Artists: Erroneous Walking Illustrations in the Fine Arts from Prehistory to Today. PLoS ONE 7(12): e49786. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049786


    Gerhard Adam
    Great article, except that it's wrong.  One can clearly see that neither the front legs, nor the back legs are ever firmly on the ground while in this gait.  In fact, this photo is virtually identical to DaVinci's drawing.  DaVinci had it right, although these scientists might benefit by actually looking at real horses. 

    The basic mistake is in assuming that horses only walk in one gait.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Thanks Grehard Adam for getting things correct again, totally agree with you, feel sorry for the artical author as he doesn't have close observation, may be they just feel jealous from the great artist, well it's ok most of people do.

    They call it "An erroneous modern, pre-Muybridgean horse drawing of Leonardo da Vinci" and want to make the case that primitive artists got things better about walking animals than Renaissance ones on average. I don't think they are claiming caveman could have done a better Mona Lisa.
    Gerhard Adam
    Except that their "corrections" are wrong.  DaVinci had it right for walking horses.

    I should clarify, it isn't that their drawing is wrong, so much as it only represents one of many ways in which horses walk.  Judging from the head, it appears that DaVinci's drawing may well have come from a horse that was being ridden, since the head held tucked like that isn't a common occurrence for a horse just walking around.

    The bigger problem is that if the authors don't know all the legitimate ways in which a moving animal can be drawn, then their error analysis is suspect as is their conclusion.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    BTW ... found a good example of precisely such movement.  Again, it is easy to observe that you never see both front legs or rear legs on the ground at the same time.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, that appears to be a rather embarrassing error. Still, there is no doubting the extraordinary observational powers and sensitivity of the Paleolithic artists. Obviously unschooled, but show extreme empathy for their subjects. See Werner Herzog's recent doco on the Chauvet Cave paintings, and also Dale Guthrie's book, The Nature of Paleolithic Art. 
    Gerhard Adam
    I agree and I certainly don't intend to disparage Paleolithic artists.  However, I also don't think it's appropriate to ridicule equally well-known artists, especially those known for their keen observation skills, and make such unwarranted claims.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    I reviewed even more of the paper, and it's even more wrong than I originally thought.
    However, because the fore legs of trotting horses are never lifted so high, and the angle between the femur and tarsus cannot be nearly 90° this should be a walking horse.
    I guess the horse in this video didn't read the article.

    Ironically another site picked up the article and managed to be even more wrong.
    In the sketch, the horse has its right-hind foot and left-front foot down with its other two feet lifted, an unstable position. In fact, four-legged animals keep three legs on the ground at any given time.
    While I guess cavemen may have been more aware of animals, it appears that modern humans can't even be bothered with Google before propagating their errors.
    Mundus vult decipi
    PLoS One pumps out more articles every day than peer-reviewed journals can in a month. They have a lot of suspect stuff, which is why it is fun to carry some of their press releases. I have one of their studies queued up for the weekend. 
    The Leonardo drawing correctly shows a trotting horse, it is not walking. These are two different gaits. So Leonardo has proven to be better at observing horses than the authors of the article. Here is another reference photo showing a horse that is not being ridden, depicting the exact leg position that the authors claim horses "never" achieve:

    Since they have obviously not bothered to learn what the correct gaits are before doing their assessments, then the whole article is compromised. We can't know how many paintings, drawings & sculptures they got wrong in the study.

    The unfortunate part is that now this article will be cited in future papers asserting that Leonardo was not an observant artist.