The second work illustrated (and, not having found information about the author, I guess also written) by Enrico Valenza that we are going to review is Dinosauri di tanti anni fa (Giunti). Unlike the previous book, this one is a novel about a kid who accidentally activates a time machine in the cellar (I’d like to have one myself, please!), thus finding himself 80 million years ago. In truth, the story is little more than a link between Valenza’s illustrations.

In this book, too, Valenza keeps mixing animals from different times and places. It’s a pretty fictitious Cretaceous, the one we see in the illustrations, but on the other hand it’s a Cretaceous in which you can travel with a time machine found in the cellar. It’s a beautiful-to-look-at Cretaceous, as in this illustration from a daring bottom-up perspective. The two sauropods, despite their size, almost blend into the trees, and against the cold background of the forest stands the warm colours of the Maiasaura chick. The possum in the background is part of a trend from late 90s-erly 00s of figuring that some present-day animals should have been origined as early as the Mesozoic. We’re gonna to see that again.

A couple of pages later, the passage is blocked by a Triceratops herd, an scene that reminds a little the one described in Crichton’s The Lost World. The artistic merit of the illustration is undoubted, with the contrast between the Triceratops herd illuminated by the sun and the predators that stalk from the shadows and a patchwork of jagged lights that make almost impossible to understand when you are looking at the true colour of the animal and when you see lights and shadows. The Velociraptor feathering (in the foreground) is admittely quite sparse by today’s standards, but for the 2000 it was fairly daring for a popular book. Back then, dinosaur feathering was still being experimented with, and in the same book there are completely feathered dromaeosaurids (Sinornithosaurus), partially feathered dromaeosaurids (Velociraptor) and featherless dromaeosaurids (Utahraptor). Albertosaurus, too, is worth a mention, even if very little is seen, because the heads that emerge from the vegetation have a clear Albertosaurine morphology, instead of the Tyrannosaur clone so common back then (and sometimes even nowadays).

Arriving on the shore of a lake, the kid wonders at the sight of some Iguanodons that they should have been extinct since some milions of years. However, this is true for most of the animals seen previously… except for the ones that had yet to appear. Saltasaurus is something of a regular in the 90s books as the “only armored sauropod”, but it gave way more recently to its more impressive relatives, either in size or gear. Those in the illustration are threatening the Iguanodons to protect their nests: the conflict between herbivores is an interesting theme that unfortunately is quite unexplored in paleoart, which often assumes that, since they don’t eat each other, they must get along well. Cotrasting with the Saltasaurus nests (ok, you have to imagine them) is the Avimimus one in the foreground. Avimimus doesn’t exactly look like how we restore it today, but beack then books featured more ofthen than not Sibbick’s “land Archaeopteryx” restoration, so this one is surprisingly modern. Also Didelphodon. It should thank WWD for its brief moment of fame.

Nests again with this Maiasaura colony. Here the hitchhike of the chick ends with the adoption by another Maiasaura female. Perhaps a bit too mammal-like, but the year 2000 was still Dinosaur Renaissance. The coloration of Maiasaura looks a bit lika that of a Simmental cow, patches that emphasize Valenza’s signature watercolor splotch patterns, which in turn go highlight the elegance of hadrosaurs. In the lake there are a couple of Parasaurolophus, with the same anatomy (but not colour) of the one in the previous review. There are also – weirdly enugh – some platypuses: that’s because until 2016 the actual classification of two Australian monotremes (that is, fossil ones) were not clear (one of these is Steropodon, which in the fifth episode of Walking With Dinosaurus is acted by a modern coati). Of course, around the nests there’s Oviraptor, too. Sixteenth rule of paleoart: where there is a nest there is an Oviraptor.

The following scene is much darker: the kid, left by the Maiasaura chick (and by a pantothere he befriended, too), coniders his chances in the Cretaceous. The illustration follows this mood, with the sun’s rays filtering through the trees failing to dispel the impression of a hostile and inhospitable environment. This impression is accentuated by the nameless theropods perched in the trees. There might be some errors in wing morphology, but they look really evil. Beware, Indoraptor! And let’s not forget the Dromiceiomimus flock (today it’s arguably Ornithomimus, depending on who you ask): not the dinosaur one expects to be the scarier, yet those bright eyes look quite disturbing. On the other hand, the pair of Erlikosaurus is particularly beautiful. I think it is the first time that such a variety of therizinosaurs was represented in an Italian book (in the book there are Segnosaurus and Beipiaosaurus, too) with a more-or-less correct anatomy. Yes yes, forelimbs should not be rotated that way, but the feet has four weight-bearing toes, a detail easily forgotten. The Amargasaurus in the background are some of the sauropods that stole the show from Saltasaurus. The profile one might look like Valenza gave it a single row of elongated neural spines, but the frontal one makes it clear that there are two. Last is the Pachycephalosaurus in the foreground, a more traditional restoration than the one that appeared in the previous book.

To reassure you, I spoiler you that in the end the kid manages to return sane and safe in the present era, not after escaping some Utahraptors. If you want to see the remaing illustrations, you may search for this book (unfortunately out of print since long time) on second-hand online bookstores. See you again in two weeks, with another beautiful book illustrated by Valenza!

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