The evolution of Gerhard Heilmann’s Iguanodons


(This is a repost of a short piece I wrote for the Shells and Pebbles blog a while ago, but I thought it would not be out of place here and have adapted the text somewhat. In addition, it gives me the opportunity to show off Heilmann’s whole Iguanodon picture, above).

The Danish artist-cum-scientist Gerhard Heilmann, who became famous for his book The Origin of Birds, published a little-known, short piece about Iguanodon a few years later, in an issue of Othenio Abel’s journal Palaeobiologica, dedicated to the Belgian paleontologist Louis Dollo. In many ways, this Iguanodon is much more ‘old-fashioned’ than his dynamic restorations in The Origin of Birds. First, it is positioned much more vertically. Although its tail doesn’t rest on the ground in the way that, for example, Charles Knight reconstructed his bipedal dinosaurs, it is still an altogether more stodgy-looking affair. This is further enhanced by the fact that the animal now looks very iguana- (and therefore reptile-) like.

Heilmann’s Iguanodons from 1926

Interestingly, an accompanying line drawing the animal’s head decreases that effect, but it’s still not quite as ‘modern’-looking as the 1926 reconstruction. In case you were wondering, Heilmann himself explains that:

[…] this reconstruction […] does not in the main features differ much from my former one (The Origin of Birds, Fig. 111), but the two running animals did not resemble reptiles at all.

One might counter that these animals look like (extant) reptiles rather too much. Worse, they don’t look like Iguanodons at all: the torso is far too elongated, and the skull too short. But also from an artistic viewpoint, this reconstruction is somewhat unsatisfying. In general, I think Heilmann’s pen drawings are much more effective than his colour work (the famous Archaeopteryx frontispiece for the 1926/7 English edition of The Origin of Birds being an exception, perhaps).

Nonetheless, it is interesting to see him reverting to a more conservative approach here, although I’m unsure where the significance of that may lie. However, as I’ve written before, it is clear that from the first drawings in 1912, Heilmann’s reconstructions become progressively more objective and restrained. That is particularly the case with regard to the stance he lets his animals adopt: from the fighting Archaeopteryxes from 1914 we end with the courting couple we know so well from the English editions.

Source: Gerhard Heilmann 1928, “A restoration of Iguanodon bernissartensis”Palaeobiologica Dollo-Festschrift (Vienna & Leipzig: Emil Haim & Co.), pp. 101-102, 1 plate.

This post was also published on the Shells and Pebbles blog.

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