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