2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 158-9
Presentation Time: 3:45 PM


ROWLAND, Stephen M., Geoscience, University of Nevada Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Pkwy, Las Vegas, NV 89154 and DAVIDSON, Jane P., Reno, NE 89557, steve.rowland@unlv.edu

Fritz Zerritsch the Younger (1888-1985) was a Viennese artist who is best known for his landscapes and scenes depicting animals. In 1955 he produced a series of paintings titled Geschichte des Lebens auf der Erde (History of Life on Earth). Prints of these paintings were sold as a series of nine educational scrolled posters. Beneath each colored image is a series of black-and-white sketches. On each scroll, one of the black-and-white sketches is a miniature of the painting; each taxon of animal and plant featured in the painting is numbered on the black-and-white miniature. The other sketches are shaded drawings of various numbered taxa that occurred during the time interval depicted.

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.