Duria Antiquior (antik-wee-or) is a watercolor painting by English geologist and artist Henry De La Beche in 1830. It’s described as one of the most important and influential geological/paleontological images ever produced. It’s the first pictorial representation of a scene of prehistoric life based on evidence from fossil reconstructions, a genre now known as paleoart. Best of all, it was the first image showing prehistoric animals pooping, a tribute to the coprolites discovered by Mary Anning in 1824!
In 1830 Henry De La Beche arranged for his watercolor to be reproduced by George Scharf as a lithograph in order for sale proceeds to support his friend Mary Anning, who was in financial difficulties at the time. The print run is uncertain but the publisher, Hullmandel, frequently produced very small runs of lithographs on commission. Individual prints were sold for the high price of £2.50 (equivalent in purchasing power to about £292.92/$397.35 today) so the number must have been small, presumably the very low hundreds. William Buckland played an active role in the distributing copies of the lithograph: he arranged for copies to be sold to fellows of the Geological Society, he sent 100 copies to Mary Anning for her to sell from her shop, and he made use of it in his own lectures at Oxford.
The creatures depicted in Duria Antiquior were those found by Mary Anning and other fossil hunters along the Dorset coast. De La Beche's vision of early Jurassic life is deeply informed by the work of William Buckland, who saw in the fossil record evidence of "the general law of nature which bids all to eat and be eaten in their turn". At the top of the food chain is the formidable Ichthyosaur, the most ferocious of which is shown breaking the neck of a Plesiosaur at the center of the image. Pterosaurs fly in the sky, the seas are full of ammonites, belemnites, pentacrinites, and coprolites.
Source: Sotheby’s, Wikipedia, Geological Society of London.
Duria Antiquior is currently housed at the National Museum Wales. However, it's not on public display due to its fragile nature.
Other artists created their own versions of Duria Antiquior. The gallery below features a collection of the best representations of De La Beche’s masterpiece.
Original Duria Antiquior watercolor by Henry De la Beche, 1830.
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