Vintage Dinosaur Art: Prehistoric World (Richard Moody) – Part 2

Vintage Dinosaur Art

While we obviously long ago stopped caring whether or not the art we featured in this series was strictly ‘vintage’, and while non-dinosaurs have frequently made an appearance (often with entire posts to themselves), I’m not sure we’ve ever featured a post that opens with an illustration depicting various Carboniferous corals. Somewhat Vintage Coral Art, anyone? Hey, you can’t say I never step out of my comfort zone.

Corals by George Thompson

As I mentioned last time, Prehistoric World isn’t one of those books that purports to cover all of prehistoric life, but disproportionately features those sexy, sexy, commercially successful dinosaurs. It includes a remarkable number of quite lavish illustrations (often double-page spreads, as above) that lovingly depict animals that are often half-forgotten in lesser books. Granted, this does present a problem for me, a casual dino-blogger who knows next to nothing about Carboniferous marine invertebrates, although if you do happen to know a thing or two about such creatures, Moody does point out that all of the corals depicted here didn’t necessarily live at the same time.

I will say that they look very pretty – this is some lovely work by artist George Thompson. Pretty corals. Yes. Should probably move on.

Cambrian life by George Thompson

In fact, we’re moving even further back in time here, with an illustration of trilobites and other marine invertebrates of the Cambrian. (I’m sure I have a fossil of one of these from Morocco, which may or may not be real, propping up a toy dinosaur somewhere.) Again, it’s commendable that these animals get such loving treatment; I’m sure, somewhere, Richard Fortey is smiling. In this scene, the cross-section included to give us a proper idea of Lingulella‘s appearance is a nice touch, as is the very pretty (and superbly painted) striped shell of Bellerophon (a ridiculously long-lived mollusc genus. Invertebrate palaeontology is a whole other universe, seriously). I do also very much like that the trilobites are colour-coded for our convenience. This is another George Thompson piece, by the way.

Space window on the Devonian world by Tony Morris

One of the most striking illustrations in this book doesn’t even feature any animals at all, instead being a remarkable ‘satellite photo’ of the Devonian world (or, you know, part of it). It feels to me as if there have been remarkably few illustrations, over the years, that have utilised this concept (as opposed to simply being maps) – which is a shame, as it’s ingenious. Of course, these days it would be bashed-together CGI, but there’s something undeniably beguiling about Tony Morris’ painting that I doubt a Photoshopped artwork could capture. It’s superbly detailed, and remarkably convincing, even including part of the orbiting ‘time machine’ mentioned by Moody. It’s the only such illustration in this book, which is a shame, as a series of these would have made great chapter openers.

Devonian fish by Peter Crump

Of course, the most famous animal of the Devonian lived in the sea, and has virtually graduated to being an ‘honorary dinosaur’ in pop culture (along with the likes of Dimetrodon, certain pterosaurs, and the biggest, toothiest marine reptiles). Yes, it’s Uncle Dunk once again, perhaps the most familiar (hideous) face in this whole post. Peter Crump’s depiction of this animal is one of those that blends its armoured portions into its more rearward, squishy parts in a relatively seamless fashion, rather than having them form dramatically differentiated outer plates. In that respect, it’s rather like the Dunk featured in The Prehistoric World, a similarly-named but much more Italian book. It still looks like the stuff of nightmares, naturally, because how could it not? The glowing red eyes don’t help.

Dunkleosteus isn’t alone in the Devonian sea, mind you – it’s joined by a range of cartilaginous fish and, of course, corals. More corals. Lots and lots of corals. Perhaps we should have a whole series dedicated to corals in palaeoart. Love in the Time of Corals. Natee and David could even chip in with illustrations of prehistoric corals. You never know, it could lead to something. A colouring book, perhaps. But I digress.

Carboniferous swamps by John Barber

Back to the Carboniferous, and more of the sort of scene you’d expect from that time – a painterly depiction of a spectacular, alien world, with a honking great dragonfly-thing flying past in the foreground. Artist John Barber also painted the Wealden scene featured in the previous post, and here displays an equally admirable attention to detail, with the stylised nature of the art belying just how much careful study has gone into it. The dense, carefully painted foliage certainly rewards closer inspection. Another gorgeous piece from Barber.

Anteosaurus by Peter Crump

Now, here’s an illustration I couldn’t resist including – it’s another maned Anteosaurus! Happily, this one looks more like the Permian synapsid it really was, rather than a monstrous chimera consisting of a lion’s body topped with a toothy reptilian maw, as seen in The Prehistoric World. It would certainly appear that this was a palaeoart meme for a few years, no doubt (as per the very helpful comments left here previously) inspired by Bakker’s work. I do remember one appearing in Dinosaurs! magazine as well – I really must dig that up. This attractively stippled rendition is by Peter Crump.

Permian amphibians by 'Oxford Illustrators'

Surprisingly, although Dimetrodon is featured in the Permian chapter of this book, it’s only as part of a ‘food web’ – and the illustration is rather sub-par. This does leave ample room for other animals to steal the limelight, not least these ‘amphibians’. I do love me an Eryops – its skull appears so ungainly and massive, bereft of the various weight-saving features we’re used to seeing in dinosaurs, that mounted skeletons often look quite absurd. (Fittingly, if rather unimaginatively enough, the single named species is E. megacephalus.)

The main reason I included this illustration, though, was the individual Eryops in the foreground, which appears quite endearingly pleased with itself, like Boris Johnson at an entirely work-related garden piss-up. If only I felt as contented as that Eryops appears to be. If only. I should mention that this illustration is, unfortunately, only credited to “Oxford Ilustrators” – boo!

Mandasuchus by Thomas Crosby-Smith

And finally…it’s another piece by Thomas Crosby-Smith, who also produced some very much technically accomplished, but strikingly retro illustrations of dinosaurs for this book (as seen last time). This illustration depicts the seldom-seen pseudosuchian Mandasuchus – here described as a ‘thecodont’, because it was 1980, after all – devouring the carcass of an unspecified therapsid (totally not a rhynchosaur). Mandasuchus lived in the Triassic, and that does mean that we’re back in the Mesozoic again – hooray! I do very much like the mood of the illustration, with the rain lashing down, and the (green) animals do fit very neatly into their (green) environment. It makes for an interesting contrast with Mark Witton’s 2018 take on the creature, following its final ‘official’ naming by Butler et al; notably, Crosby-Smith’s depiction incorporates more crocodilian features, such as the rectangular scales, although that’s hardly surprising. It was 1980, after all!


Coming up next time: the Cenozoic parts! You know, if there’s any demand for it.

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  • Reply
    Grant Harding
    January 13, 2022 at 5:36 pm

    Wow, how great is that “satellite photo”?!

  • Reply
    Ben Hillier
    January 14, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    Please please please an arricle on the Cenozoic!

    (Does 3 “pleases” count as 3 votes?)

  • Reply
    Timur Sivgin
    January 16, 2022 at 6:46 am

    Fun fact about prehistoric corals: They all went COMPLETELY extinct in or around the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. The Paleozoic coral orders Tabulata and Rugosa died out without leaving descendants and our modern stony corals had to evolve independently out of anemone-like ancestors in the Mid-Triassic.

  • Reply
    Rugosidens Excelsus
    January 23, 2022 at 5:02 pm

    Some really great and nostalgic art in here, Marc! I know I’ve seen that Crosby-Smith piece somewhere. Great thoughts, too. You really don’t give yourself enough credit for these posts.

  • Reply
    January 25, 2022 at 10:19 am

    MAMMAL 4 LIFE! (In plain English – “Cenozoic Beasties and Foliage, Please & Thank You”).

  • Reply
    April 11, 2022 at 8:00 am

    This isn’t a book I’ve seen before. In terms of characterful illustrations, I’m particularly amused by:
    * The volcanic ejecta on the front cover that makes it look as if the T. rex is angrily shouting and spitting.
    * The critter (don’t know what it is) in the bottom right of the Triassic illustration that appears to be angrily shouting at the Lystrosaurus.
    * The Palaeoscinus. (So contented! So smug!)
    * The face and expression on the left-most fighting Deinonychus reminds me a bit of the Orcs in the Rankin/Bass animated The Return of the King

    • Reply
      Marc Vincent
      April 11, 2022 at 3:21 pm

      You’ve possibly left a comment on the wrong post?

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