Duria Antiquior, a watercolor painting by Henry De La Beche in 1830, is considered one of the most significant geological and paleontological images ever produced. It was the first pictorial representation of prehistoric life based on evidence from fossil reconstructions, a genre now known as paleoart. What sets it apart is that it was the first image to show prehistoric animals defecating, a nod to the coprolites discovered by Mary Anning in 1824.
Henry De La Beche had the lithograph made in 1830, which was sold to support his friend Mary Anning, who was experiencing financial difficulties. The print run is uncertain, but they were sold for the high price of £2.50 (equivalent to about £292.92/$397.35 today), so the number must have been small. William Buckland played an active role in distributing copies of the lithograph, and it was used in his lectures at Oxford.
The creatures in Duria Antiquior were discovered by Mary Anning and other fossil hunters along the Dorset coast. De La Beche's vision of early Jurassic life is heavily influenced by 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". The most ferocious predator in the image is the Ichthyosaur, which is shown breaking the neck of a Plesiosaur. Pterosaurs fly in the sky, and the seas are filled with ammonites, belemnites, pentacrinites, and coprolites.
Duria Antiquior is currently held at the National Museum Wales but is not on public display due to its fragile nature. Other artists have created their own versions of Duria Antiquior. The gallery on our website showcases some of the best representations of De La Beche’s masterpiece.
Original Duria Antiquior watercolor by Henry De la Beche, 1830.
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