Friday, August 27, 2010

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Iguanodon Juan

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The famous Waterhouse Hawkins Iguanodon at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. By Willm23, via Flickr.

Yesterday's post dealt with the small town of Maidstone in Kent, whose civic coat of arms bears an Iguanodon. The first of the herbivorous dinosaurs known to science, a specimen discovered in Maidstone in 1834 was a boon to the young science of paleontology. For today's Vintage Dinosaur Art post, I figured I'd share some of the earliest Iguanodon restorations.

Dr. Gideon Mantell, a physician, natural historian, and the first truly dedicated dinosaur paleontologist, published his Wonders of Geology in 1838, which included a full description of the Maidstone beast. It also included an incredible illustration by John Martin, depicting Iguanodon in Mantell's conception of its natural environment.


John Martin's frontispiece for Mantell's Wonders of Geology, 1938. From the Linda Hall Library's Paper Dinosaurs online exhibition. Click to Megalosize.

The Megalosaurus preying on poor, wailing Iguanodon is quite the striking figure, blessed with bulging goggle-eyes and a cleft cranium. I can't help but be reminded of "Uncle Scrotor" from This Island Earth. Clearly, Iguanodon just should have hugged the guy, and he wouldn't be in such a sticky situation. At this time, I should also point you toward Mantell's own go at restoring Iguanodon, which is a true classic.

Here's a similar illustration, published in 1863 in french scientist Louis Figuier's The World Before the Deluge. The artist is Édouard Riou, whose Megalosaurus is decidedly unlike Scrotor. In this depiction, Iguanodon is a bit pluckier, deciding that if he's going down, it won't be without a morsel of sweet Megalosaurus meat.
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Édouard Riou's Iguanodon and Megalosaurus, from El Bibliomata, via Flickr.

So when did these early conceptions of Iguanodon taste the bitter fruits of obsolescence? They would be served by Louis Dollo, a Belgian paleontologist who oversaw the excavation of Iguanodon skeletons discovered in 1878 in a mine in his home country. It was Dollo who proposed the upright, bipedal posture that would come to dominate depictions of ornithopods for the next century or so. A notable exception is the work of Gerhard Heilmann, who in the 20's drew ornithopods in a posture more or less like the modern bipedal/ horizontal-backbone/ stiff tail image the scientific evidence has constructed.

More: The banner at the site Paleoartistry features a nice line-up of Iguanodon's evolving image, and the rest of the site is well worth a thorough browsing, including incisive criticism of many paleoartists' work. Strange Science is also an invaluable resource for learning about the evolution of paleoart. A Vintage Dinosaur Art post from last May features John R. Jones' representation of Iquanodon's changing posture.

1 comment:

  1. I love these old illustrations. There is this wonderful element of scientific innocence mixed with the dramatic.

    The first one that really affected me as a kid was the frontispiece from Thomas Hawkins' "Great Sea Dragons" - published in 1840. Truly as terrifying a primeval scene as could be conceived and yet absolutely wonderful and awe-inspiring.

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