Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: In the Days of the Dinosaurs - Part 2

Have you thought much about Corythosaurus recently? No? Well, no one seems to care so much about Corythosaurus these days, do they? It's all, "Shantungosaurus this" and "Olorotitan that". Back in the 1950s, though, Corythosaurus was the talk of the town, and so it's only natural that Jean Zallinger illustrated it for the remarkably good In the Days of the Dinosaurs (do read Part 1 if you haven't already). Of course, it's messing about on the river.

Again, this illustration shows that Zallinger was paying a greater-than-usual amount of attention to the animal's anatomy; note the quite precise way the skull is drawn, and the particular curve of the spine over the shoulders. I wouldn't mind betting that it's largely based on the famous specimen on display in the AMNH (AMNH 5240).

Andrews devotes a chapter of the book to  "Dinosaurs with Armor [sic]", although rather than being a section dedicated to thyreophorans, it instead concerns various distantly related animals that evolved pointy bits with which to defend themselves from predators. As Andrews puts it:
"For thousands of years the smaller dinosaurs were eaten by the bigger ones. They were eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner - whenever they were caught."
This raises the (no doubt intentionally) amusing image of dinosaurs with set mealtimes, although lacking convenient supermarkets to visit. In any case, the first of these great armoured brutes to appear in the book is Stegosaurus (above), in an illustration that is as beautifully shaded as any of the others, but very of its time. I do like the rows of small scutes along the animal's flanks, much as the static, hump-backed appearance of the animal is all too predictable.

Ankylosaurus appears too, of course, in classic super-squat, rather short-tailed guise. It's very adorable. I can't help but be drawn to the silhouetted pterosaur in the top left - it seems altogether sleeker and pointier looking than your typical background pteranodont.

Triceratops is up next, looking...rather interesting. The peculiar, semicircular, fanned-out appearance of the frill is shared with Rudolph Zallinger's The Age of Reptiles depiction. Somehow, though, Jean Zallinger's illustration manages to make the animal look even more corpulent - it's probably that vein-like skin fold on the belly, and the especially fat tail. (As an aside, the contrasting skin texture of the tail does make it almost look like a monstrous parasitic worm has inserted itself up where the sun don't shine.) I do think the shading on this one is especially lovely, serving to highlight the very many interesting contours of the face, where the skin appears to adhere to the underlying bone very closely. This approach (along with the resulting lizardy lips) was very popular back in the day, fell out of favour somewhat, but is now being given a second look. In some areas, 'shrink wrapping' of the face might be justified if the bone texture suggests it. Why yes, I have been following what Mark Witton's been up to recently.

Naturally, it's Monoclonius that shores up the ceratopsian team in the Armoured Dinosaurs category. It's another one of those slightly dubious genera that's fallen by the wayside, although I'll forever remember it as being the cute blue fellow with the glassy yellow eyes. In any case, this illustration looks awfully familiar to me, but I just can't quite put my finger on it. The tail seems to be emerging in a bit of an odd place on this one, although that might just be an issue of perspective. It's also interesting to note that the toes are more 'separated' here, as opposed to the more elephantine feet on Triceratops - they're actually a much better match for how ceratopsian feet really look. It may be some combination of lack of information on Triceratops at the time with the expectation of how such a huge animal 'should' look. Certainly, I think it's the latter that's resulted in the trope persisting until very recently.

This being a book written by Roy Chapman Andrews Himself, Protoceratops does of course appear, although outside the "Dinosaurs with Armor" chapter. It's a very typical portrayal of a beast squatting over a tightly-packed nest. Now here's an idea for a throwaway gag in Jurassic World 2: It Could Have Been Worse, John: a shot featuring dozens of caged Protoceratops, crammed together like battery hens, laying endless eggs onto a conveyor belt. You can have that one on me, Universal. But I digress. This illustration notably includes the wee teeth in the front of the mouth, so often missing from contemporary (and even more modern) depictions of this animal. And the tree in the background is well done. Love a good tree, me.

Naturally, Protoceratops is featured in a chapter that details Andrews' exploits in Mongolia. Not only is Andrews' story a ripping yarn in whichever book it appears, it also gives Zallinger the chance to illustrate some properly stunning landscapes. Based on the above image, I can only wish that she had included a backdrop like this in some of her dinosaur illustrations - they would have been properly stunning. Stick a tiny dinosaur somewhere at the foot of this rocky outcrop, and you'd have people like me stroking their chins thoughtfully and complimenting the beautiful composition. But alas, it wasn't to be.

Andrews set out on his Mongolia expedition in 1922, apparently with a convoy of eight old-time motor cars. I'm grateful to Zallinger for illustrating this, as to modern eyes it looks absolutely crazy; like a parade of veteran charabancs, overloaded with kit, attempting to traverse terrain more suited to a well-beaten 4x4, or indeed a camel train. What a wonderful image.

And finally...the book's endpapers feature a very familiar-looking Bronto, apparently modelled on The Age of Reptiles mural, disdainful look and all. Still, the vegetation (what little there is) is again very well drawn, and I continue to be impressed by the very subtle scaly skin texture, where so many others apparently gave up and just made their sauropods look like completely smooth-skinned blimps. Having (I must confess) not been aware of Jean Zallinger's work before I wrote this post, I now want to seek out more of it. Lovely job (and thanks again to Charles Leon for sending me the scans).

Coming up next: TetZooCon! Again!


  1. Lovely drawings indeed! Where does the scutes on Stegosaurus's sides come from? An artistic tradition or suggested by remains? I also wonder about the 'four feet on the ground' thing. It's generally supposed that this was done to make them reptile-like. But really, it would be doing a great disservice to modern reptiles, all of which are pretty active!

  2. PS. The Monoclonius looks a lot like Burian's Styracosaurus.


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