Early Brachiosaurus art
April 8, 2010
Most people think of Janensch’s (1950b) plate VIII as being the first skeletal reconstruction of “Brachiosaurus” (although Janensch’s species “Brachiosaurus” brancai is now referred to the separate genus Giraffatitan). And it certainly is a classic:
But the reconstruction published in 1950 is modelled on the physical mount of the specimen HMN SII, which not only was constructed much earlier, but was even published as a photograph in Janensch’s (1938) earlier paper on the mass of his species. Comparing the drawing (above) with the photograph (below), it’s easy to see how closely they resemble each other, not only in proportions but in pose:
Yet less well known is that when the mount was completed, shortly before the start of World War II, it was unveiled against a backdrop of Nazi banners. I have not been able to find a photograph of this (and if anyone has one, please do let me know), but I do have this drawing of the event, taken from an Italian magazine and dated 23rd December 1937. Since the date stamp is marked “Zoolog. Museum Berlin”, I guess that is the date that a museum artist executed the drawing, or maybe when a copy was released by the museum to the magazine. Once again, I don’t know, and would welcome clarification. Anyway, here it is:
So we have a published photograph and a published drawing of a brachiosaur skeleton that predate Janensch’s (1950b) reconstruction, but was there an earlier actual skeletal reconstruction? Indeed there was: Matthew’s (1915) popular book included what I believe was the first ever brachiosaur reconstruction, and here it is:
Matthew’s caption to this figure says that it is “from specimens in the Field Museum in Chicago and the Natural History Museum in Berlin”, i.e. it incorporates elements from both Brachiosaurus proper (B. altithorax) and the Tanzanian species “Brachiosaurus” brancai. And if you’re familiar with the fossils in question, that’s evidently the case: for example, the scapula is clearly based on HMN Sa 9, and the posterior dorsals are unmistakably those of FMNH P25107. [The inclusion of those dorsals fulfils our weekly sauropod-vertebra picture mandate, in case you were wondering.]
This is pretty impressive work, especially given that it was published one year after Janensch’s (1914) preliminary short paper on the Tendaguru Formation’s fossils. Since that initial report did not figure the scapula Sa 9, it’s tempting to imagine that Matthew or his artist must have visited Berlin and seen the material in person; but as this was in the middle of World War I, that seems unlikely. Does anyone know the story here?
And finally, we come to what is probably the first life restoration of Brachiosaurus or any brachiosaur. It’s the work of Abel, and I found it in Young (1975: page 4):
Infuriatingly, Young does not say anything whatsoever about the provenance of this restoration — for all I know, it might have been done in 1974 by a talentless artist who ignored the previous sixty years’ work. But it seems more likely that it’s very early work, and therefore of great historical importance. Once more (and believe me, I am getting embarrassed at how often I’ve said this), I welcome any further information.
And in other news …
Many of you will have used PDFs downloaded from the O. C. Marsh archive at http://sauroposeidon.net/marsh.html. That address will become inoperative at the end of this month, and the archive is now hosted at http://marsh.dinodb.com/ — Please update your bookmarks, links, etc.
- Janensch, Werner. 1914. Ubersicht uber der Wirbeltierfauna der Tendaguru-Schichten nebst einer kurzen Charakterisierung der neu aufgefuhrten Arten von Sauropoden. Archiv fur Biontologie, Berlin, III, 1 (1), pp. 81-110.
- Janensch, Werner. 1938. Gestalt und Grösse von Brachiosaurus und anderen riesenwüchsigen Sauropoden. Biologe 7: 130-134, 2 figs.
- Janensch, Werner. 1950b. Die Skelettrekonstruktion von Brachiosaurus brancai. Palaeontographica (Suppl. 7) 3: 97-103.
- Matthew, W. D. 1915. Dinosaurs, with special reference to the American Museum collections. American Museum of Natural History, New York. 164 pages.
- Young, D. 1975. Brachiosaurus, the biggest dinosaur of them all. Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 46(1):3-9.