Duria Antiquior, an exquisite watercolor masterpiece painted by Henry De La Beche in 1830, stands as an iconic testament to the realms of geological and paleontological artistry. This remarkable work marked a watershed moment in the depiction of prehistoric life, pioneering a genre now celebrated as paleoart. Its uniqueness lies in its depiction of prehistoric creatures engaged in the most mundane yet fascinating of activities: defecating. This whimsical touch pays homage to the coprolites unearthed by the eminent Mary Anning in 1824.
Henry De La Beche orchestrated the lithographic reproduction of this exceptional artwork in 1830, with the noble intent of supporting his dear friend Mary Anning, who was grappling with financial hardships. Though the precise extent of the print run remains uncertain, historical records indicate that these lithographs were available at a premium price of £2.50, a sum equivalent to a substantial £292.92/$397.35 in today's currency. Hence, it is reasonable to surmise that only a limited number were disseminated. Notably, the renowned William Buckland played an active role in the distribution of these lithographs, incorporating them into his educational lectures at Oxford.
The prehistoric creatures portrayed in Duria Antiquior are the handiwork of Mary Anning and other intrepid fossil hunters who combed the Dorset coast for hidden treasures. De La Beche's artistic vision of early Jurassic life was profoundly influenced by the ideas of William Buckland, who discerned in the fossil record the immutable law of nature dictating the eternal cycle of predation and consumption. Dominating the image is the Ichthyosaur, portrayed in a dramatic scene where it wrestles and prevails by snapping the neck of a hapless Plesiosaur. Meanwhile, Pterosaurs soar through the skies, while the seas teem with the enigmatic presence of ammonites, belemnites, pentacrinites, and the ever-intriguing coprolites.
Presently, Duria Antiquior resides within the protective confines of the National Museum Wales, safeguarded due to its delicate nature, unfortunately rendering it inaccessible to the public. Nonetheless, artists have continued to draw inspiration from this pioneering work, resulting in a diverse array of reinterpretations. Our online gallery proudly showcases the original Duria Antiquior prints and some of the finest contemporary representations of De La Beche's masterpiece, celebrating the enduring influence of this iconic paleoart creation.
Original Duria Antiquior watercolor by Henry De la Beche, 1830.
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