Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Prehistoric World – Part 3

Vintage Dinosaur Art

In my last post on The Prehistoric World, I noted that it had been a whole month since my last VDA post – but this time it’s been even longer! Well, as Ian Malcolm didn’t say, life…gets in the way. Here’s one last look at the work of a series of fabulous, (mostly) Italian artists, as featured in a book originally published (in Italian) in 1982. This time, we’ll move on to Cenozoic wildlife, on which I am rather ill qualified to comment. At least we can all appreciate the pretty pictures.

Basilosaurus by P Cozzaglio

Illustrator P Cozzaglio proves once again to be the master of gloriously chaotic, paint-spatteringly churning waters in the above scene, depicting the notoriously misnamed cetacean Basilosaurus. It’s a stunning piece, even if the individual on the right appears rather lipless, as is strangely typical in palaeoart featuring this genus. (The one on the left, on the other hand, does look like it might have a decent amount of lippiness going on.) Both creatures also seem to have their nostrils in conspicuously ‘conventional’ positions, to my eye, but I’m sure it’s a matter of debate. All the same, very few artists are this good at exciting watery palaeoart (Steve White, latterly interviewed on our podcast, is a strong contender.)

Brontotherium by P Cozzaglio

In fact, there’s an awful lot of P Cozzaglio in this post, as was the case in both my previous posts; clearly, his work catches my eye. He doesn’t just do watery scenes, of course – witness the above illustration of Brontotherium, which appears to have been synonymised with Megacerops. Synonymised some time ago, in fact, which goes to show just how far behind the curve I am when it comes to anything extinct that isn’t a Bloody Dinosaur. It does seem like a bit of a shame – Brontotherium is a rather wonderful name, for exactly the same reason as Brontosaurus is. (‘Bully for Brontotherium‘, anyone?) Scientists should attach the prefix ‘Bronto’ more often to the generic names of large things, regardless of how eye-rollingly gauche it obviously is. Yes.

Anyway, this is a lovely painting. Megacerops is typically depicted with very sparse hair, so it’s interesting to see it here with a mane, of sorts, although only on the males. A nice speculative touch. If you’re about to leave a comment because you’re aware that this is a knock-off of a piece of Knight, Zallinger or Burian, please don’t. Just look at all that lovely fine detail! The muscle tone, the fine hairs over the body! Lovely.

Oligocene scene by O Berni

Here’s something that isn’t by Cozzaglio, but rather by O Berni of Milan. Berni’s work appears comparatively infrequently in this book, but is nevertheless notable for its muted, almost solemn style, reminiscent of the work of a great landscape painter. In the above piece, the eye is drawn to the fine details of what appears to be a convincingly naturalistic landscape – notice the wonderful trees in the centre in particular – before the mind registers that something is off. That’ll be the animals, obviously. They’re a gathering of North American Oligocene beasties, all appearing rather relaxed – subdued, even. No drama here – just a smattering of prehistoric mammals, a lot of earthy tones, and a fallen tree. Another one for the Fallen Log Appreciation Society’s scrapbook, there.

Paraceratherium by P Cataneo

In my previous two posts, I described P Cataneo’s work as “a bit more painterly than usual”. May I add to that that it’s of a style that one simply would not see in a popular book on this subject matter nowadays. The broad brushstrokes and often quite impressionistic foliage (with apologies for also recycling that description) were fairly commonly seen in mid-century palaeoart, often painted by jobbing wildlife artists, but the dominance of a hyper-real and/or computer-generated style has really seen this sort of thing disappear. Just look at that sky, seemingly slapped on with the sort of brush you’d use to paint a wall, and tell me you don’t absolutely love it. The oversized rhino things aren’t bad, either. (Yes, it’s Paraceratherium again.)

Columbian mammoth by P Cozzaglio

Back to the more straightforwardly realistic style of Cazzaglio now, and here’s a Columbian mammoth having a bad day. While it’s tempting to focus on the blood-soaked action taking place, do take a moment to examine the bubbling tar in the lower left – the level of carefully painted detail, particularly in the shading of the material stuck to the animal’s skin, is simply stunning. And that’s without mentioning the myriad skin folds and creases on the mammoth. Even if it’s a scene that has been depicted countless times by different artists, this is a gorgeous piece.

Macrauchenia by P Cozzaglio

As if that weren’t enough, Cozzaglio treats us to this Macrauchenia piece, which again abounds with astonishing detail. The trunk is controversial, and Cozzaglio’s wrinkled reconstruction of it looks almost eyebrow-raisingly elephantine for an animal that had nothing to do with elephants. Nevertheless, that was following a precedent set by other artists (and scientists) at the time, and this is an absolutely gorgeous illustration, well deserving of a place in an art book on prehistoric mammals.

Phorusrhacos by Andrea and Luciano Corbella

Now we’re back in my comfort zone – it’s a dinosaur! This Phorusrhacos is highly Burianesque*, with even the mountainous landscape in the background being reminiscent of Burian’s famous piece. It’s by Andrea and Luciano Corbella, and is technically excellent, but can’t escape from Burian’s shadow. Nice grass. Har har.

As an aside, I visited a zoo yesterday – the aptly named Birdworld – and witnessed a red-legged seriema, one of the terror birds’ closest living relatives, puffed up against the cold. The viciously clawed predator was rendered a nondescript ball of fluff on stilts. I’d love to see a phorusrhacid depicted in a similar vein.

Bison by P Cozzaglio

And finally…it’s another Cozzaglio, and perhaps one of the best of all. Here, a pack of fearsome wolves appear as cowering puppies, dwarfed by a gigantic mountain of really quite angry beef. Quite apart from what’s happening in the background, the look in the bison’s eye is enough to tell you that these wolves are going to be crushed. Once more, one can’t help but be impressed by Cozzaglio’s technical ability – from the fine hairs of the bison, to the smattering of snow being kicked up by the animals as they skirmish. Absolutely wonderful stuff.

Coming soon: something else entirely! Perhaps even some actual Mesozoic dinosaurs. If you ask us nicely.



*It’s really rather scary to me that I reviewed Life before Man almost a decade ago. As I’ve mentioned recently, I feel like I need to find my love for prehistoric animals again – the same love that I had back then. That people read this blog and share that interest really helps a lot.

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  • Reply
    November 30, 2021 at 2:10 am

    Scientists should attach the prefix ‘Bronto’ more often to the generic names of large things, regardless of how eye-rollingly gauche it obviously is.

    At least we still have Brontornis!

  • Reply
    December 1, 2021 at 1:35 pm

    That’s quite a beautiful (if inaccurate) Basilosaurus!

  • Reply
    December 2, 2021 at 1:17 am

    Well, let’s see. There’s:

    – Brontoichthys (= Titanichthys). [“Thunder FISH”?. Really?]
    – Brontomerus [“Thunder Thigh”- I knew a girl who had that nickname…]
    – Brontoraptor (= Torvosaurus)
    – Brontornis
    – Brontosaurus (= Apatosaurus)
    – Brontoscorpio
    – Brontotherium (= Megacerops)

    Any others?

    • Reply
      Andreas Johansson
      December 2, 2021 at 6:36 am

      Brontops (= Brontotherium = Megacerops)

    • Reply
      Thomas Diehl
      December 2, 2021 at 9:47 am


    • Reply
      Ned Wilson
      February 13, 2022 at 7:08 pm

      Brontosaurus regained its validity in 2015 and Brontichthys is now synonymous with Titanichthys.

  • Reply
    December 2, 2021 at 1:25 am

    Oops, sorry, I’m used to double-spacing paragraphs, but that looks horrible, and I don’t know of a way to edit a post here.

  • Reply
    Ben Hillier
    December 10, 2021 at 7:35 am

    Many thanks, as always, for posting. I do love all the VDA that has been posted throughout the years. Hope you find your groove again too!

  • Reply
    December 31, 2021 at 11:39 pm

    That Paraceratherium painting is gorgeous!! I’d love to see modern paleontology books showcasing more illustrative works like these. Thanks, as always, for sharing ?

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