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Rudolph Zallinger completed The Age of Reptiles mural in 1947 and The Age of Mammals mural in 1967. The Yale Peabody Museum celebrates their combined “centenary” in 2007 with this exhibition of Zallinger’s preliminary drawings and paintings, archival memorabilia, and various products reproducing the vivid images of ancient animals that have inspired generations of budding scientists and artists around the globe.
The Age of Reptiles: The Art and Science of Rudolph Zallinger’s Great Dinosaur Mural at Yale
Revised, full-color guide with fold-out poster
Winner of the New England Museum Association 2008 Best in Show Publications Competition Award | Available from The Museum Store
The first of the Peabody Museum’s two great Zallinger murals is a remarkable achievement on both artistic and scientific grounds. The world’s largest painting on the subject of natural history, it measures 110 feet (33.5 meters) long by 16 feet (4.9 meters) high and condenses within its bounds information about approximately 300 million years of earth history.
In it Zallinger used knowledge gained from extensive study with scientists—Carl O. Dunbar, Richard Swann Lull, G. Edward Lewis, and George R. Wieland of Yale, and Alfred Sherwood Romer of Harvard—to visualize a world no human being has ever seen.
A similar idealized panorama of time if painted today would look very different, because our understanding of many of the mural’s plants and animals has changed significantly in the last 60 years and many new kinds of fossil organisms have been discovered since then.
The first mammals probably arose from their synapsid ancestors in the Late Triassic Period, about 220 million years ago. However, it was only during the Cenozoic Era, which began 65 million years ago with the extinction of the great reptiles and continues to the present time, that the mammals came to dominance.
Zallinger’s unique representation of an idealized record of the evolution of mammals in North America portrays the diverse plant and animal forms that occurred from the Paleocene Epoch (at the left margin) to the Pleistocene Epoch (at the right). The artist also shows a changing landscape, depicting the physical and climatic history of the Rocky Mountain region and the adjacent Great Plains—whose rocks contain what is possibly the best fossil record in the world of the evolution of Cenozoic mammals.
Professor Carl O. Dunbar, who was director of the Peabody Museum from 1942 to 1959 and an expert on historical geology, was determined that this companion painting to The Age of Reptiles would also become a Peabody mural. The Age of Mammals finally became a reality in the 1960s, supported by funds provided by Life magazine and Dunbar’s Yale classmate Heath M. Robinson.