The Zallinger Murals
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The Zallinger Murals at the Yale Peabody Museum

In 1941, when Rudolph F. Zallinger was a senior at Yale’s School of Fine Arts, he took a job illustrating seaweed for Albert E. Parr, then director of the Yale Peabody Museum. “Albert had this wall in the Museum and a lot of gray bones,” Zallinger recalled. “He thought it ought to be spruced up. Lewis York, head of the art school, suggested that I paint it. When we got into it, we saw an opportunity to do something definitive.”

Curators at the Museum gave Zallinger a 6-month crash course in animal and plant life of the distant past and in comparative anatomy. Carl O. Dunbar, who succeeded Parr as director, guided the work. Among his teachers were Richard Swann Lull (“he was approaching 80”), G. Edward Lewis and George Wieland.

Top left: Rudolph Zallinger with his underpainting for The Age of Reptiles mural.

It was Zallinger’s idea to do one long mural instead of separate panels. Using the dry fresco technique, with a solution of casein glue to bind the painting to the wall, Zallinger worked on The Age of Reptiles from 1943 to 1947. “It’s very, very durable. The painting will far outlast the building.”

In 1952, Life Magazine contacted Zallinger, now a freelance artist in Seattle, to commission paintings for its series The World We Live In, one part of which was “The Age of Mammals.” According to Zallinger, “Dunbar had always wanted the mammal mural and was primarily responsible for making it happen.” After a crash course in mammal paleontology and paleobotany, Zallinger produced The Age of Mammals, painted from 1961 to 1967.

Zallinger had been doing other work, particularly for Life articles that later appeared in books. He depicted reptiles that returned to the sea, painted 8 pages on the tropical rainforest of Surinam, pictured the competition for survival among animals from North to South America, drew animals and birds with his wife Jean (Day), portrayed a series of Cro Magnon rituals to illustrate “The Dawn of Religion,” recreated scenes of the great age of Crete some 3,500 years ago, and illustrated a series on the Russian Revolution.

Zallinger was the first nonscientist to receive the Addison Emery Verrill Medal, an award that honors individuals in the arts of natural history and natural science. A. Bartlett Giamatti, then president of Yale University, presented the medal at a ceremony in the Great Hall on February 29, 1980: The inscription reads:

 

Rudolph Franz Zallinger, artist and teacher, your great natural history murals at the Peabody Museum are a fusion of scientific accuracy and artistic genius. Guided by your own diligent research and painstaking collaboration with scientists, your imagination has allowed us a glimpse into past worlds no human eye ever witnessed. It was your innovation to blend the static frames of successive geologic ages into grand panoramas that sweep through time, capturing the dynamic force of life as it evolved.

 

Adapted from “An Interview with Rudolph F. Zallinger,” by Lee Grimes, 1975. Discovery 11(1):33–35. 

 

The Age of Reptiles Mural

The Age of Reptiles mural at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University was completed by Rudolph F. Zallinger, a graduate of the Yale School of Fine Arts, in 1947 after 4 1/2 years study, preparation and painting. The mural, which showcases a panorama of the evolutionary history of the earth based on the best paleontological knowledge then available, spans more than 300 million years. The chronology of the mural moves from right to left, with the large foreground trees marking the boundaries between the geologic periods. Measuring 110 feet (33.5 meters) by 16 feet (4.9 meters), the original painting occupies the full length of the east wall of the Yale Peabody Museum’s Great Hall. Painted in the Renaissance fresco secco technique, the prehistoric plants and animals in the mural were portrayed with scientific accuracy, according to the best information available at the time, in natural, realistic settings, the result of the collaboration of the artist with the most preeminent scientists of that day. Mr. Zallinger received the Pulitzer Award for Painting in 1949 in recognition of his work on The Age of Reptiles.

The Age of Reptiles, a mural by Rudolph F. Zallinger. Copyright © 1966, 1975, 1985, 1989, Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. All rights reserved.

For information on the permission to reproduce the Zallinger murals, contact Permissions at (203) 432-3786 or peabody.permissions@yale.edu. 

 

The Age of Mammals Mural

The Age of Mammals mural by Rudolph F. Zallinger at Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History resulted from a commission by Life Magazine. Painted from 1961 to 1967, the mural occupies the 60-foot (18.3 meters) south wall of the Hall of Mammalian Evolution at the Museum. Depicting the plants, animals and landscapes of western North American, reading from left to right, the painting spans some 70 million years, beginning shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and ending with the giant animals of the Ice Age about 15,000 years ago. Painted in the Renaissance fresco secco technique, the prehistoric plants and animals in the mural are portrayed with scientific accuracy in natural, realistic settings, the result of the collaboration of the artist with the most preeminent scientists of that day.

The Age of Mammals, a mural by Rudolph F. Zallinger. Copyright © 1966, 1975, 1989, 1991, 2000, Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. All rights reserved.

For information on usage rights for the Zallinger murals, contact Permissions at (203) 432-3786 or peabody.permissions@yale.edu.