7.02.2010

ancient memories

A couple of days ago I visited the venerable Museum of Natural History. Caught between appointments with too much time to kill, I decided to see the Silk Road exhibition. It had quite a bit of really provocative information and was quite a show-stopper of an installation—I may eventually write something on it here, but this post isnt about that. It's about a somewhat sidelined hallway mural on the fourth floor. In a niche at the end of one of the dinosaur galleries is the 25 foot tall Flying Reptiles by Constantin Astori (1889-1975). A Russian artist who came to New York in 1923, Astori worked for the Smithsonian and the Cooper Hewitt as a restorer. The American Museum of Natural History commissioned him to paint a mural in 1940, and Flying Reptiles is signed 1942.


Oddly, as soon as I saw it, it was familiar to me from a very early, distant memory, although I had no specific childhood recollection of it. Perhaps it was reproduced in one of my books on dinosaurs (an avid interest circa ages 5 through 10)? In doing a little armchair research I rediscovered another very familiar mural: the magnificent Age of Reptiles by Rudolph Zallinger. (Interestingly, like Astori, Zallinger was a Russian, from Siberia). Age of Reptiles is a massive 110 foot long fresco panorama completed in 1947 at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. (I'm ashamed to say in my 4 years in New Haven I never did get over to the Peabody—I intend to go in August.) The mural was reproduced in several dinosaur books in the late 60s/ early 70s and that's how I know it.
Age of Reptiles (detail) Rudolph Zallinger
Zallinger was by far the better draftsman but there is something I love about Astori's Flying Reptiles. Somehow, his mural conveys "Lair of the Zorgons on planet Rilor" in a loopy science fiction sort of way, rather than "speculative view of life on prehistoric earth." Its a bit humorous (see the pterosaur antics in the details above) and I half expect to see a Maxfield Parrish nymph perched one of the rocks, nevertheless I'm simply drawn into that fabulous compositional spiral toward an ancient technicolor sunset.

3 comments:

Doug Clouse said...

That is my favorite painting in the museum as well. After this scorching July, it suggests the future as well as the past!

Therese said...

I recognized the "Age of Reptiles" painting from a series of children's encyclopedias we had when I was a kid. Our copy with the dinosaurs was well read. It may be outdated by today's standards, (especially in its portrayals of T-Rex and Triceratops) but back then to my dino-obsessed mind, it was a gift from dino-paradise! Then in 1966 (at age 5) I saw the traveling Sinclair Dinosaur Exhibit in nearby Vestal, NY. I just came across this link that brought back a flood of memories. Did you get to see this back then?

http://www.monsterbashnews.com/SinclairDinosaurs.html

Thanks for the memories, and now I'll have to look up the full version of that painting!

angela said...

Wow I had no idea those dinosaur figures were a travelling exhibit at any point. Have just seen photos.

I read in that link they were originally at the 64 World's Fair?? When did they stop circulating I wonder... Sounds like their heyday was a little too early for me.

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