Welcome back to Verdwenen Werelden, an eccentric old book by an eccentric old lady! Last time, we looked at some of the fantastic dinosaur scenes from our unlikely heroine Maria Hubrecht. Today, I want to focus on the many Cenozoic paintings she made for the book. Unlike the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic paintings, none of these have any equivalent in the murals of the current Joke Smit college. These are all original works produced for the book only.
Maria Hubrecht very much followed the eary 20th century scientific gospel of the March of Progess. Dinosaurs, with their “cold eyes”, are considered grotesque and unattractive creatures even if she relishes in making them spectacular. How different does she view the world after their extinction: “After the dark, balmy atmosphere in which the Reptiles lived, we see a new, brighter atmosphere in which completely different types of animals become abundant,” she says. Elsewhere: “They will develop into the animals we know, that became our servants, and our good friends.” Where her Permian and Mesozoic scenes were either barren deserts or impenetrable jungles, her Cenozoic world is lush, open and vibrant.
This Eocene piece immediately shows what’s in store. Compare this to the swampy dinosaur pieces in the previous part and see a much more well-lit, open, friendlier looking world full of much more recognizable creatures. Of course, it is the tusked uintatheres, the first animals post-dinosaur to get proper big, that immediately draw the attention on the right. “These creatures had barely developed brains,” Hubrecht says about them, “so one understands why they did not exist for long”. Rude! But, again, this piece hides a wealth of detail.
For instance, there are plenty of basically modern birds scattered around. Here’s a saddle-billed stork and some cranes, for example. The picture also shows raptors, ibises, flamingos and a secretary bird.
For a moment I thought this hoofed mammal was giving the flehmen response, but no; it’s a brontothere, an obscure one called Diplacodon, and those are its horns, not its lips. It is threatened both by the Patriofelis from the jungle and the Andrewsarchus from the waterside. Both are quite unusual reconstructions in how unusual they aren’t. Patriofelis is a member of a long-extinct line of carnivorans called Oxyaenidae – not a cat at all – and was once interpreted by Knight as a quite bizarre creature, but Hubrecht just turned it into an ordinary panther. As for Andrewsarchus; this was a huge animal, but it doesn’t look particularly large or impressive here. I’m guessing that Diplacodon can handle itself.
This is an Oligocene scene, and it’s one of my favourites in the book. The multi-layered landscape looks great, and the animals look massive, especially that snarling indricothere (identified as Baluchitherium, one of several taxa lumped into Paraceratherium). Hubrecht has given it a bit of a giraffe hump, very peculiar. It’s not a direct copy of Knight, but could have been inspired by him.
The Arsinoitherium is a more literal Knight copy. To its right we find two more brontotheres, nevermind that brontotheres are from the Eocene: below, the Titanotherium (now Megacerops), which seems to be based on Robert Bruce Horsfall (get used to that name), and above, the pillar-horned Embolotherium, which I haven’t been able to trace back to any pre-existing work.
Staring out over the scene is this Archaeotherium, an entelodont. This is another animal famously drawn by Horsfall, but this time Hubrecht didn’t follow his example. There’s been some pushback against entelodonts’ usual characterization as “hell pigs”, and indeed Hubrecht says in the text that it doesn’t look much like a wild boar, but she went ahead and basically drew a boar anyway.
In the lower left corner a gaggle of small ungulates skip about. The one in the very corner is Merycoidodon, an animal usually – memetically, one might say – depicted with stripes like a baby tapir, a trend that may have started with Heinrich Harder. The spotted, vaguely cat-like animal is particularly interesting. It is Agriochoerus, an articodactyl, and once again based on Horsfall, although his version is much more like an elongated deer and much less like a strange panther. I guess we can’t all be Natee Himmapaan when it comes to drawing tiny things.
This is a diptych, with the upper left illustration showing the palaeofauna of Australia. There’s extinct genera such as Diprotodon and Thylacinus – tragically, Hubrecht did not yet know that the thylacine had gone extinct – alongside extant ones like Macropus and Phascolarctos. The lower, bigger illustration shows prehistoric New Zealand. This one is absolutely hilarious: the only extinct animal of NZ known to the author was the giant moa Dinornis, so she just went ahead and drew a whole bunch of them! One has to admire the straightforwardness of it. Old Charlie Knight had drawn a lot of moas as well, so she had a wealth of examples to use. Some kiwi birds in the lower right break up the monotony.
We’re in the Pleistocene now, with this image combining the mostly familiar animals of North America with the stranger ones of South America. Sadly, Hubrecht cannot claim the rights to that majestic Columbian mammoth in the centre. It is a copy, from Horsfall. Another iconic animal taken from an iconic picture is, of course, Knight’s famous Smilodon.
The Macrauchenia herd is, partially, Horsfall again, and full of goofy character. Where Horsfall’s animals were wearing contented grins, these ones don’t seem to get along as well. The one on the right seems utterly apalled with the other guys. The middle one appears to be a new addition.
The giant ground sloths are staples for books like these and Megatherium is well-represented here. The one below is pretty funny – It’s based on Horsfall and carries over the fact that it basically has the face of a moose. I can’t retrace the upper Megatherium, but it’s got a vaguely Crystal Palace vibe about it. I love the mastodon peeping around the corner.
Things get a little bit mixed up in terms of identification here. The glyptodont on the left, clearly a Doedicurus (from, guess who, Horsfall) is identified as Glyptodon. So where’s the real Glyptodon? That would be the spotted, vaguely horseshoe crab shaped thing, facing away from us on the upper right there, and that one’s identified as Doedicurus. Horsfall drew Doedicurus (the one with the tail club) and Glyptodon (the one without) together, and Hubrecht simply mixed the two up.
Truly interesting is the armadillo-like creature right of the Doedicurus, identified as Chlamydotherium, an animal I’d never heard of, and which doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. If anyone knows anything about this animal, I’d love to know. In any case, Hubrecht made it look more like an armadillo than a glyptodont. Were there ever non-glyptodont armadilloes this size?
Here’s another Very Strange Thing. Below the Toxodon (again, Horsfall. She copies him more than Knight at this point) is a still-extant, South American creature. Can you guess what it is? Hint: It’s a rodent. Yes, this snarling monstrosity is supposed to be a dang capybara. It seems unlikely that Hubrecht never saw a capybara – she was well-travelled, and capybaras are quite ubiquitous in zoo collections (at least nowadays), but I refuse to believe that this is what you produce if you are in any way familiar with the real thing.
Here is the final image in the book, and an uncharacteristically stark and bleak one. This is one of the images on display at the Teylers museum, though as I write this the museum is closed for reasons you’ll no doubt understand. The last Ice Age has taken over, and that means harsh, white landscapes with mammoths (all Knight) and woolly rhinos (also mostly Knight). In a sparser composition like this, scaling issues come to the fore, with the cave bear looking much smaller than the giant beavers. Hubrecht identifies them as Castor giganteus, but I don’t think that name has ever been in use for either of the extinct giant beaver genera.
But what’s this? In a not-uncharacteristic bout of melodrama, Hubrecht announces “the greatest mystery of all”: modern humans. Some may find their inclusion as skeletons and skeletons only to be macrabre, but I think it’s quite tasteful: this way, the focus of the book remains on the myriad unfamiliar animals as it should be.
And so, our Great Aunt Marie concludes with these words of wisdom: “May the knowledge of Science, which beckons us all to join her, help us better understand the purpose of life and bring us closer to the Truth!”
However, I don’t think I’m done with this book quite yet. There’s still a whole bunch of aquatic scenes to get to! Who wants to see some freaky fish, magnificent mosasaurs and upside-down ammonites? Verdwenen Werelden will return!