Zallinger’s “Age of Reptiles” mural at the Yale Peabody Museum

March 13, 2015

In 2012, Matt and I spent a week in New York, mostly working at the AMNH on Apatosaurusminimus and a few other specimens that caught our eye. But we were able to spend a day at the Yale Peabody Museum up in New Haven, Connecticut, to check out the caudal pneumaticity in the mounted Apatosaurus (= “Brontosaurus“) excelsus, YPM 1980, and the bizarrely broad cervicals of the Barosaurus lentus holotype YPM 429.

While we there, it would have been churlish not to pay some attention to the glorious and justly famous Age of Reptiles mural, painted by Rudolph F. Zallinger from 1944-1947.

So here it is, with the Brontosaurus neck for scale:


Click through for high resolution (3552 × 2664).

And here is a close-up of the most important, charismatic, part of the mural:


Again, click through for high resolution (3552 × 2664).

That’s your lot for now. We’ve long promised a proper photo post of the Brontosaurus mount itself, and I’ll try to get that done soon. For now, it’s just scenery.

16 Responses to “Zallinger’s “Age of Reptiles” mural at the Yale Peabody Museum”

  1. nwfonseca Says:

    I love that old mural, the Peabody is really a cool museum of a museum. In some ways I hope they don’t turn the place into a modern contemporary styled museum. Anecdotally, a friend of mine had Zallinger as a professor in college. He said Zallinger was a very lovely man. I think that makes it all the better.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    Absolutely — the mural is not just technically astonishing, it’s also a crucial part of our palaeontologiscal heritage, a perfect time-capsule of the palaeobiological ideas of the 1940s. Any attempt to update it would be catastrophic.

  3. I was shocked seeing it for the first time, because in books I had always seen it flipped, like this:

    “Wait, it goes right to left???”

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes, it’s strange, isn’t it? I have to admit that the book version makes more sense — reading from left to right, moving through from the past towards the present. IIRC, that’s how it was printed in Life Magazine.

  5. Yet right-to-left makes sense at the YPM, since, when you enter, you walk toward your right.

  6. Eric Morschhauser Says:

    The book version was a test painting Zallinger did (in oils I think). I was surprised at the near absence of texturing in the real mural (the scales are much more pronounced in the study).

  7. nwfonseca Says:

    It actually makes sense either way depending on how you look at it. On one hand left to right as presented in mural makes sense if you are traveling back in time from Cretaceous to the Permian from left to right. It all depends on how you like to start your time traveling thought experiments. In a way it is more akin to our process of peeling back layers of strata to find creatures from the past.

    here is a link to an image from yale of zalinger painting it. Flipping awesome.

  8. Chase Says:

    Awesome! This is a great shot of a beautiful piece of palaeoart! I have always been fascinated by the details Zallinger was able to weave into his piece. Because he was still in college at Yale when he worked on the thing, the mural becomes that much more impressive (for me, at least). I actually work 1 1/2 hours away from there at the Stamford Museum, so if you are ever in the area again, please stop by and I will show you the collections (Holler before you come though).

  9. Chase Says:

    I have a book from the museum which is about the mural, and it does say that the “book” version was a test. Personally, I like the wall mural better, as I feel it has more lifelike textures.

  10. Chase Says:

    You know, I think we are talking about the same book.

  11. I have a book from the 60s (my first dinosaur book as a child), with those illustrations and others Zallinger did. I must look it out!
    On sauropod vertebrae (photos, top): I am amazed at the chunkiness of those cervicals relative to the small and fragile-looking skull they carry. It seems quite a comical mismatch!
    Has anyone inferred anything about the biomechanics and likely use of such a (presumably well-muscled) neck?

  12. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes, the neck of Apatosaurus really is crazy fat. One of the best things about Greg Paul’s skeletal reconstructions is that the dorsal view of Apatosaurus clearly shows how much broader the neck is than the skull it carries. See also: Seriously. Apatosaurus is just nuts.

    As for the uses of such a crazy neck: as far as I know, nothing has been written about this beyond informal speculations, such as our own in Why sauropods had long necks; and why giraffes have short necks (Taylor and Wedel 2013a):

    Apatosaurus presents a final riddle regarding cervical ribs. Even among diplodocids, it had extraordinary cervical ribs: very short, very robust, and positioned very low, far below the centra on extremely long parapophyses (Figs. 7.1 and 7.2), so that the neck of Apatosaurus must have been triangular in cross-section. What function can the ribs have evolved to perform? They were much too short to have functioned efficiently in horizontal or vertical stabilization, and in any case seem over-engineered for these functions. It is tempting to infer that the autapomorphies of the neck in Apatosaurus are adaptations for some unique aspect of its lifestyle, perhaps violent intraspecific combat similar to the “necking” of giraffes. Even if this were so, however, it is difficult to see the benefit in Apatosaurus excelsus Marsh, 1879a of cervical ribs held so far below the centrum – an arrangement that seems to make little sense from any mechanical perspective, and may have to be written off as an inexplicable consequence of sexual selection or species recognition.

  13. Name required Says:

    when I’ve seen what this article was about, I FEARED for a second that some despicaple administration had came up with a “The museum must move with the times to stay relevant” kind of statement, and they were to paint some Jurassic Park logo or something over Zallinger’s venerable, awesome and gorgeous work…

  14. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes, I know what you mean — it does seem that there is no degree of cultural tone-deafness that museum administrators won’t stoop to. We can only hope that the Zallinger mural has another 68 years in it before some numpty decides it has to go.

  15. Name required Says:

    by the way, does anybody know where to find a high resolution image of the mural itself? or the book oil?
    first time I saw this painting in a book as a kid, I knew that was some badass tyrannosaurus

  16. […] that the necks of apatosaurines would have been triangular in cross-section, rather than tubular as often depicted. (The Apatosaurus maquette that Matt reviewed gets this […]

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