Monday, December 19, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Eva Hülsmann

One of the recent uploads to the Flickr Vintage Dinosaur Art pool, thanks to the valiant efforts of geoblogger David Bressan, is a set of Eva Hülsmann illustrations from an Italian book titled Trecento Milioni Di Anni Fa, which Google translates as Three Hundred Million Years Ago. Yes, that means that we're dealing with a topic that invariably sends the masses into fits of ecstatic blabbering, the late Carboniferous: chock-full of hot, hot arthropod and lycopsid action.

Well, no. Contrary to what the title would have you believe, the book is about the good ol' Mesozoic, which isn't nearly as popular an era in Earth's history, but that's what we're stuck with.


The cover is graced by a flaming red Scolosaurus - er, Euplocephalus as it is now known - beckoning the reader to crack open the book. Its warm smile belies the fact that it's somehow lost its ankylosaurine tail club. The artwork inside is presented in similar fashion, with each animal isolated against a white background rather than integrated into a natural environment. Refreshingly, she doesn't rely heavily on the work of earlier artists to pose her animals, offering a nice variety of postures and angles, as demonstrated by these three illustrations:

Dimorphodon, the classic "hatchet-headed" rhamphorhynchoid, which here has a dangling fifth toe, commonly used by other illustrators to anchor the uropatagium, the membrane connecting the feet and tail.


Camptosaurus, that ubiquitous ornithopod of the Jurassic Morrison formation in the US.

And this dashing fellow is Triceratops, a ceratopsian of no small renown.

Published in 1974, Trecento Milioni Di Anni Fa came out during that transitional period when Ostrom's ideas were gaining traction among the scientific community, and just before Robert Bakker began spreading the new ideas about dinosaur biology to the public with his 1975 "Dinosaur Renaissance" article for Scientific American (an issue I own, and have yet to scan, shame on me). They argued that dinosaurs were monophyletic - both the ornithischians and saurischians shared one common ancestor; that they were active animals with high metabolisms; and, of course, that theropods were the ancestors of birds. This places Hülsmann's art just before the revolution this brought out in paleoart, which proceeded fitfully throughout the eighties and nineties as we've seen in this series time and time again.

She illustrates the "big two" theropods, Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, in the familiar man-in-suit posture that has persisted for so long. What's remarkable are the correctly oriented forelimbs of Allosaurus. No pronation! Ken Carpenter's 2001 study Forelimb biomechanics of nonavian theropod dinosaurs in predation did much to dispel this misconception from high-level paleoart, but "lay" dinosaur illustrations will probably get this wrong forever, because we want our dinosaurs to have dextrous little hands so we could play Nintendo 64 with them and high-five them without great struggle.



And check out the pterofuzz on Pteranodon!

My favorite from this selection has to be Hülsmann's coy little Archaeopteryx, brightly colored but not to sparkleraptor extremes. In penance for the time I did the same damn thing, I am forced to note that the primary feathers should be extending from this sexy little Archie's middle digit. The feet, too, are a bit off, with a hallux that's more reversed than it should be.

FACT: The Vintage Dinosaur Art pool is inching ever closer to 1,000 images! You can see more Mesozoic critters from this book there, including a plesiosaur that looks like it's walking on dry land due to the white background.


  1. Great post. I have a post about a vintage book lined up for tomorrow that doesn't quite qualify as a Vintage Dinosaur Art post, due to the amount of art being rather minimal and the art itself being mediocre. As such, I'm glad to see you've taken care of this week's entry. ;)

  2. No need to hold back, t'is the season and all. I've got one in the works for next Monday, too. Another strange old one.

  3. By the way, I find it interesting that that Triceratops is missing a toe on each foot. The extremely old mount in London's Natural History Museum is the same.

  4. And the Triceratops has individual digits. (let's gloss over the clawed 4th & 5th) Merry Festivus!

  5. I like the almost dove-like appearance of the Archaeopteryx. I'm also quite fond of the two Phorusrhacos (not in this post), particularly the interesting preening posture of the red one.

  6. @Niroot: Good point. It's tempting to say that terror birds are hardly ever depicted preening because that's an insufficiently terrifying-looking activity, but then being flightless they probably didn't do much preening anyway (if any).


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