Some italian paleo-illustrators gained some notoriety outside of their homeland, among these are Emiliano Troco, Davide Bonadonna and Giovanni Caselli. Others are less known. Among these there is Enrico Valenza, which is a very versatile illustrator from 3D to 2D, and created a lot of young adult novel covers (and, since we’re on Paleo-Nerd, let’s mention at least the italian editions of Astrosaurs and Justin Richards’s The Death Collector). But he also did a lot of mesozoic illustrations.
Let’s beging with Dinosauri (series “Pillole di Scienza”, ed. “L’isola che non c’è”). The book feature some dinosaurs divided by geological era, interspersed with full-page illustrations of Mesozoic environments populated by various animals that actually didn’t live in the same place or the same time either. This is a sort of tradition of Italian illustrators which can be traced back to Stefano Maugeri’s works in the 90s.
Starting with the Triassic, it’s immediately clear that this is an early 2000s book: not only the Triassic is a desolate, red desert, but those Coelophysis jumping around a fallen tree, that menacing Postosuchus and the Plateosaurus herd trigger in the head the music of Ben Bartlett, which everyone who was young in those years remembers. In the illustration, however, there are also some new entries, from Teratosaurus (here represented as a kind of generic theropod, actually a rauisuchian), to Herrerasaurus, ending with a colourful Longisquama. After twenty years, the nature of Longisquama is still debated.
In the red of the Triassic desert, the pattern of Coelophysis stood out, a blatant tribute to the iconic representation of Walking With Dinosaurs: greenish skin, red nape and black-and-white striped limbs. If we ignore some details like the wrist orientation to the forearm and the possible presence of filaments, Coelophysis didn’t age as much as other animals in these twenty years. The illustration highlights Valenza’s technique, the watercolor splotch patterns we’ll see in other drawings.
The Jurassic is perhaps the illustration that most pays homage to WWD: there are prominently featured Diplodocus (check), Allosaurus (check) and Stegosaurus (check), all of them in some familiar colours. There are also lesser cast members such as Brachiosaurus and Ornitholestes (with colours NOT inspired by WWD). The latter has, of course, the memetic nose horn. Another sign of the twenty years which have passed are the only three animals not belonging to the Morrison Formation: a rather shrinkwrapped Rhaphorynchus in the sky (but in the first 2000s our knowledge of pterosaur anatomy was scarce); Archaeopteryx, in the usual reptile-in-bird-costume garb: instead of chasing a dragonfly as usual, here it pounces some Megazostrodon. This genus, in addition to not living in the present-day USA, is not even contemporary with the others, being at least Earrly Jurassic in age. But it was one of the few Mesozoic almost-mammals famous enough to appear in popular texts.
Along with the full-page illustrations, there are other – smaller – ones representing “clades”: i’t no use to be more specific, because actual relationships between the featured animal varies from one illustration to the other. This one, from the Allosaurus page, might be titled “Averostra”. In the foreground there’s Ceratosaurus, perhaps the one that aged best. It’s followed by Eustreptospondylus, a clear reference to WWD: just look at the short and stocky skull, while all Megalosauroidea remains have a relatively low and long head. This because in WWD it’s basically a sightly edited Allosaurs. Just like the “polar allosaurus”, which was quite a popular animal back in the end of the 90s, being one of the few animals known from Australia back then. It’s an astragalus of uncertain affinity, perhaps Megaraptoran. Perhaps to avoid the “copy and paste” effect, Valenza didn’t base it on WWD and gave it a peculiar diamond-shaped crest. In the background there’s Afrovenator: another Megalosauroidea, but the rerestoration looks more like Allosaurus (following a famous mount). Then Acrocanthosaurus, which is quite faithful to the first (almost) complete skull of this animal which was described just that year and aged quite well, except for the sail on its back. The last one is Allosaurus, family-sized: at the time, books and documentaries alike had a 12-meters-long Allosaurus, but no specimen was actually that big other than perhaps some bones classified as Saurophaganax (which some lumps in Allosaurus, and it’s very understudied anyway). The skull, stocky as it was depicted at the time, is a smoking gun to WWD, with its slender jaw and conical horns above the eyes (also “inherited” by Valenza’s Afrovenator).
Brachiosaurus – or rather, given its morphology, perhaps Giraffatitan – towers on two pages. Valenza did a remarkable job with the shadows, suggesting the girth and bulk of the sauropod’s limbs and trunk. Yes yes, maybe there’s something a bit weird about the forelimb proportions (the autopodium, i.e. the “hand”, looks a little too elongated), but, for the first 2000s, it’s a great restoration. I mean, nares open on top of the skull, but Witmer’s influential work was still a year to come by, and Valenza couldn’t read future!
In the Cretaceous splash page, we again some WWD homages in the armor of Ankylosaurus, in the skull of Quetzalcoatlus and in the roaring Tyrannosaurus, which recalls the famous scene of the female Tyrannosaurus roaring to attract a mate, one of the most iconic scenes of the show. But Valenza introduced a noteworthy cast in the illustration, such as feathered Unenlagia and Caudipteryx (among the first illustrations of feathered dinosaurs in a made in Italy book, although Caudipteryx bears little resemblance to the real thing). Please spend one moment to look at the watercolour skins that both Lambeosaurus and Einiosaurus wear. I owned this book for many years before I noticed the Pachycephalosaurus perched on rocks, in a way that reminds more a marine iguanas than a dinosaur. A very peculiar view.
It’s almost impossible not to think, nowadays, about the Beasts of the Mesozoic line when looking at these ceratopsians. Obviously, in 2000s we had no idea something like BOTM may exist, but with their bright colors these dinosaurs are somehow forerunners of Silva’s work. Being scaled with each other makes the smallest ones – like Psittacosaurus – almost disappear if not for its bright green. Of course back then we couldn’t imagine that some exceptional fossils, which now allow us to know the shape, the integument and even the colours of this animal, were in the coming a few years in the future. Protoceratops, being sightly bigger, is luckier in regard to details (and it has alright proportions instead of being a scaled-down ceratopsid!), but Styracosaurus and Pachyrhinosaurus are the first were we can truly appreciate Valenza’s work. The skull of Styracosaurus is not very close to the fossil (I think it has one more epiparietal than it should?) and it’s not one of the best works in this book (even if the colours of the body are nice!), while Pachyrhinosaurus is noteworthy: the species is P. lakustai, which would have been described only eight years later. But the fossil was unearthed during the twenthieth century and probably there were some pictures of it. Still speaking in pairs, the bright colours of Torosaurus (and pleas have a look at how the snout looks keratinized!) makes Triceratops look faded in comparison. A common mistake back then (and even nowadays, which is worse) is that Troceratops has the size of an adult specimen, but the head of a subadult one, with straighter horns and not-yet reabsorbed epioccipitals.
Unlike Coelophysis, Parasaurolophus changed quite a bit since 2000: Valenza shows it in blue-streaked skin, with a jagged crest running from the nape to the tail. Back then there was much to understand about hadrosaurs. Today’s Parasaurolophus would feature a thicker neck, no sail, no kink in the back (by the way, it’s in the wrong place) and with palms facing each other, just like theropods. Science marches on, but the illustration still features a believable animal, with its musculature shaded under the white skin and the neck that creases in its curve.
If you want to see more images from this book, I wish you good luck on your search on online stores and Italian flea markets. See you in two weeks, with another beautiful book by Enrico Valenza!