THE HISTORY-OF-LIFE POSTER SERIES OF AUSTRIAN ARTIST FRITZ ZERRITSCH: A MID-TWENTIETH CENTURY EUROPEAN EXAMPLE OF PALEONTOLOGICAL ICONOGRAPHY
The nine posters include five terrestrial scenes and four underwater, marine scenes. The ages represented are: Silurian, Devonian, Pennsylvanian, Early Triassic, Early Jurassic, Late Jurassic, Cretaceous, Early Tertiary, and Late Tertiary. In terms of artistic style and color palette, Zerritsch’s five terrestrial scenes, as well as the underwater scenes featuring aquatic vertebrates, are comparable to the work of Rudolph Zallinger (1919-1995). In 1953, Life magazine published an article titled “The Pageant of Life,” with illustrations by Zallinger, James Lewicki, and a third artist. The Zerritsch terrestrial paintings are quite similar to those of Zallinger, including the taxa represented, while Zerritsch’s aquatic invertebrates are similar to those of Lewicki in the Life magazine article. It is likely that Zerritsch, who had never before painted extinct animals, used the illustrations in the Lifearticle as a guide.
The Zerritsch History-of-Life posters are a mid-twentieth-century European example of the history-of-life genre of fossil iconography. Zerritsch followed some common conventions of this genre, but he did not follow other conventions. Like most series within this genre, Zerritsch’s paintings are vertebrate-centric, but unlike most others they are not Homo-centric. Also, his series begins with the Silurian rather than the more traditional Cambrian seafloor scene. Most surprisingly, however (unless it is missing from our set), there is no Pleistocene poster showing Neandertal or anatomically modern humans.