As a kid, among my most favourite books were those of the Casa Editrice AMZ’s Animal Life and The Private Lives of Animals series, first published in Italian during the late 1960s and translated into English during the 70s. There are loads of these books, and they all follow the same format: a big painting of the featured animal on the left (with text and a ‘Did you know?’ feature), and then little paintings reconstructing aspects of daily life on the right. The art is often wonderful, and the poses and scenes from these books have often been faithfully copied by many less gifted artists.
However, because the artists were often asked to depict scenes that had only been reported anecdotally – and never filmed or photographed – they had to paint all manner of absolutely incredible, anomalous occurrences. In Animal Life in Africa (Young World Productions, London, 1971), for example, we see a ratel attack a wildebeest, a shark attack a hippo, a secretary bird catch a rabbit, a Cape buffalo fight a rhino, baboons catching hares, a rhino beating up two crocodiles, and so on and on. But I’m not complaining. However, it’s also obvious from some of the paintings that the artists sometimes knew very little about the animals they were painting. Look at these pages on Sable antelope Hippotragus niger. What’s wrong?
Here’s a closeup of a family scene, just to emphasise the point.
PS – am going away for a while shortly. Don’t worry, I’ll leave you with something to do while I’m gone.
UPDATE (added 14-8-2008): as nearly everyone correctly noted, the problem with these illustrations is that they depict all the sable antelopes with the colour scheme of adult males. In reality, only adult males are jet black: females and young are chestnut to dark brown (this varies among the subspecies). Females and young also have smaller horns than adult males, and this is depicted correctly in some of the pictures but not in others (one youngster is shown without horns at all, which isn’t right). I will agree with Carel (of Rigor Vitae) that the artist concerned was most likely working hard to a deadline, and without the access to information that we now take for granted, and while I’ve been referring here to a significant and misleading error, it doesn’t diminish the high quality of the artwork. And, yes, I’ll post the hippo vs shark picture some time.
Coming later today: a truly novel Mesozoic archosaur!