Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wherefore Art Thou, PaleoArtist?

Duria Antiquior, By Henry De le Beche

As long as there has been paleontology (or maybe longer), there have been artistic interpretations. Naturally, these have evolved with our knowledge of the creatures of the past.

Actually, artistic depictions are a great way to trace our understanding of various creatures. On that note, one example stands out.

First up, Iguanodon, first discovered in 1822. We can use various works of art to trace the progression of not only our understanding of Iguanodon, but also the progression of our understanding of Paleontology in general. early depictions of Iguanodon were basically Iguanas blown up to massive proportions. Here is a set of statues that stand today on Sydenham Hill, but were commissioned for the Crystal Palace, and unveiled in 1854.

by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins

Moving Forward to the 1895, we can see that a great deal has changed in the depiction of Iguanodon. In this depiction, it is far more upright, and less Iguana-like.

by Alice B. Woodward

Now we'll jump forward about sixty years, and see how far we've come. Iguanodon is more refined than before, and the anatomy is understood better.

by Neave Parker

Now we'll move to a recent picture. Look at the huge difference from the early depictions!

by Chris Srnka and Jeff Poling

So let this be a lesson to PaleoArtists, myself included. Don't get too attached to the current "incarnation" of any dinosaur!


Stephen Simmonds said...

A very salient look at history. My first though would be that you're depicting the history of paleontological understanding, but there's a very real element of evolving art styles. When juxtaposed like that, the pictures all appear very date-specific. Only the latest feels realistic to me.

Trilobite said...

You make a good point, I was trying to show the evolution of our understanding, from basically copying other animals, to having an actual idea of what an animal would looked like.

Clive said...

Marvelous blog, Trilobite. I'll visit regularly and may find a way to incorporate it into my, generally art, links. In case you haven't found it there is a very general art blog called Lines and Colours:
which, if you look on the right hand side has a small heading 'Paleo Art', and some interesting posts and links to paleo artists that you're probably already familiar with. Thanks for dropping by and commenting, and best to you over there in trilobite country. (Funny, just talking to someone about trilobites found up in Kananaskis in the terrain hiking towards the Haig Glacier, apparently. I've not been there, but apparently the national X-country ski team train up there in the summer...)

The Flying Trilobite said...

You are correct to point out that as artists, we shouldn't get too attached, at least in many instances.

However, I can remember being in senior school (about 12 years old) and reading Robert Bakker's The Dinosaur Heresies, and how he deduced many things about their warm-bloodedness, their gait, and so on.

Looking at fossil footprints of ceratopsians for instance, helped cement the idea that their legs went under them like an elephant not sprawling to the side like a crocodile.

I believe now, it is sometimes possible to deduce where and in what direction the ligaments and muscles attached, making reconstructions ever more accurate.

So while yes, colour, feathers, skin textures and may other features may not be finalised, it is possible to say that there is progressively accurate information to work from.

Excellent post, by the way Marek. I remember wanting iguanodon statues like those at Snydenham hill in my backyard.