Vintage Dinosaur Art: What Is A Dinosaur – Part 2

Vintage Dinosaur Art

Last time, 65 million years ago, we looked at the marvellous illustrations by the great Maidi Wiebe in Daniel Q. Posin’s book What Is A Dinosaur (no question mark). We ‘ve already covered the theropods, in tried and true LITC fashion, so now it’s time to take a look at all them other dinosaurs. We’re firmly in the 1960’s, so expect lots of swamp dwelling slowpokes… but thanks to the artist’s pedigree, there’s some nice surprises, as well!

Here’s a great one. This Stegosaurus mixes Knightian and Burianesque elements without being recognizably a copy of either, with a personality all its own. For palaeoart of the 1960’s, Wiebe’s work conveys a lot of motion and life. Strangely, with that dramatically arched back, it looks like it has to make an effort to keep that tail drooping down, and that it would spring right back up if it would relax. Of course, Posin’s text can’t resist bringing up the walnut brain again. Rude! It’s all anyone ever says about poor Stegosaurus!

The little smudge was there when I got the book, I promise!

This pudgy, neckless Ankylosaurus can only be described as “of its time”. Wiebe again goes above and beyond when it comes to attention to detail. The knobs on the tail club are excellent, as are the pebbly belly scales. Where she’s dropping the ball slightly is with the feet. She just can’t seem to get her quadrupedial dinosaur feet right. Both front feet are posed in the same direction, maiking the animal’s pose feel slightly off, and they don’t really look like dinosaur feet. Other than this achilles’ heel, Wiebe makes her dinosaurs look pretty convincing.

Here’s one odd thing that Posin does: he genders all the dinosaurs as male, and uses He/His pronouns consistently. He didn’t even check their Twitter bios!

Another great one! Sir Triceratopsalot has a noble, almost heroic look in its eye. I’d like to think of this one as a retired warrior, now the wise matriarch of her clan, ready to pass the torch to the next generation but still perfectly capable of kicking Tyrannosaurus ass if she needs to. Is Dame Judi available for the role?

This is an interesting one. Wiebe draws sauropods in several different ways. The Brontosaurus in this book is your standard giant swamp lizard, but this Diplodocus is an altogether more dynamic and progressive reconstruction. Not that it’s particularly accurate, mind. The noodle neck and the rat tail (although…) have aged very poorly, it has an oversized cartoony head and it seems like it’s spent some time at the nail salon. Who needs a whip tail when you’ve got nails like that? But it does look very much like it could plausibly spend a lifetime on land, with nary a sex lake in sight. I have to award points for that.

Speaking of giant swamp lizards: wow. How often do you see this? We’ve seen plenty of hadrosaurs mucking about in swamps (see below) but few artists dared to take the aquatic, web-footed duckbill hypothesis to this extreme a place. Look at that thing. It’s built like a dinosaurian manatee! Hips for days. Interestingly, it’s hands are webbed, but not its feet. Even though hadrosaurs were commonly considered aquatic during the pre-renaissance days, there are very few images that depict them swimming like this. And, to Wiebe’s credit, she does make it look plausibly like something that would be clumsy on land but agile in the water.

This is more what we’ve come to expect of our pre-renaissance Donald Duckbills, of course. The one on the right is especially charmingly awkward and dorky. Interestingly, I’m not seeing a whole lot of Knight influence this time around; Knight’s Trachodon had a much differently shaped head. Credit to Posin for his remarkably prescient claim that hadrosaurs might occasionally eat small marine invertebrates, as this idea was basically proven right in 2017.

Here’s actually my favourite illustration in the book. It accurately depicts an inaccurate mount of what I believe to be Brontosaurus, as it stood at the AMNH at the time; camarasaur skull and all. My favourite touch is of course the painting on the background, surely one that should be familiar to most of us: none other than Charles Knight’s Triceratops versus Tyrannosaurus. I love this so much. It’s like Maidi put that in as a tribute to her legendary predecessor, and as a little easter egg for us palaeoart nerds to be delighted by. Maidi Wiebe, we salute you.

And that’s What Is A Dinosaur, another book illustrated by one of the forgotten female greats of palaeoart who probably deserve more attention and respect. Her paintings, rare to find online, are apparently in storage at the Field Museum somewhere. I hope we will get to see them, so we can feature more of Maidi Wiebe’s work one day.

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  • Reply
    Timur Sivgin
    April 15, 2020 at 12:57 pm

    Triceratopsalot ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡° )

    • Reply
      Niels Hazeborg
      April 15, 2020 at 1:05 pm

      Can’t take credit for that one, I stole it from Marc. Like all my good ideas.

  • Reply
    John Burris
    April 16, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    That Corythosaurus is reminiscent of Rudolph Zallinger’s submerged one in The Big Golden Book Of Dinosaurs (minus its Parasaurolophus diving buddy and the chubby Gorgosaurus lurking on shore.).

  • Reply
    Andreas Johansson
    April 30, 2020 at 1:04 am

    I vaguely seem to recall reading a book were dinos were referred to as “he” or “she” depending on the grammatical gender of their generic names, so Sexy Rexy was male and Archie was female and so on.

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