fossil love


John Martin portrayed the collapse of civilizations, or the onslaught of the Deluge, as vast panoramas with a slightly hysterical veracity bordering on kitsch. In his early nineteenth-century renditions of the dramatic past, cowering crowds quake with terror before tidal waves or massacring invaders, all lit by lurid lightning or dazzling sunbeams slicing through clouds. Thanks to their extensive reproduction as mezzotints, his images achieved great popularity. He was the perfect artist to illustrate the age of monsters.

Geology came of age in Europe in the 1800s. For several decades it enjoyed the kind of glamour status that nuclear physics occupies today. And small wonder, because the concept of geological time revolutionized the narrative of our planet, posed questions that challenged religious orthodoxy, and – not least – introduced a cast of “prehistoric monsters” to an avid public. The thrill that children still feel when they encounter Tyrannosaurus or Brachiosaurus proves that the showbusiness possibilities of the distant past survive undimmed.

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