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News Peabody dinosaur mural gets a check up

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​Art conservators assess the condition of “The Age of Reptiles,” Rudolph F. Zallinger’s iconic mural depicting dinosaur species over a span of 362 million years, ahead of the museum’s upcoming renovation. (Image: Yale News)

​Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History conservator and PSP alumna Mariana Di Giacomo talks to Yale News about assessing the 1947 painting ahead of renovations to the museum's Great Hall. From the December 2, 2019 article by Mike Cummings:


“The Age of Reptiles” — the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History’s iconic panoramic mural depicting the lives and times of dinosaurs and other reptiles — is being prepped for what you might call the museum’s fast-approaching Age of Renovation.

Art conservators recently boarded a scissor lift in the museum’s Great Hall and rose to a height about level with the nearby Brontosaurus skeleton’s skull to assess the state of artist Rudolph F. Zallinger’s 1947 masterpiece, which has awed generations of visitors with its panoply of dinosaur species roaming in a lush, volcano-dotted landscape. The assessment is necessary to prepare the mural for the Peabody Museum’s upcoming major renovation, expected to start in December 2020 and take two years. 

The museum will close for the renovation, but the 110-foot-long, 16-foot-high mural will remain in place.

“We’re assessing the mural’s condition today to see if there’s anything we need to do to stabilize it before the renovation begins,” said Mariana Di Giacomo, the museum’s natural history conservator. “Construction will produce dust and vibrations. We need a record of the painting’s current condition so that we can effectively monitor it as the work progresses.”

Zallinger ’42 B.F.A. ’71 M.F.A. painted the prehistoric scene directly onto dry plaster along the Great Hall’s east wall — a wall-painting technique called fresco-secco that was in fashion during the Renaissance. As a result, the mural cannot be moved and must be protected and monitored throughout the renovation.

The mural will be sheltered behind scaffolding during construction, Di Giacomo explained, adding that he protective barrier won’t touch the painting’s surface and that air will circulate behind it to prevent mold. Devices will continually monitor vibrations, and there will be frequent site visits to evaluate the mural’s condition, she said.

​. . . While the mural’s portrayal of dinosaurs and plant life are scientifically outdated, it remains a captivating work of art that represents human understanding of dinosaurs as of the 1940s, Di Giacomo said.

“It’s a fascinating mural because it depicts an extremely long history of time in a confined amount of space, and it is interesting to see how people understood dinosaurs at the time,” she said. “It’s not only beautiful, but it inspires learning, and can spark conversations about how our scientific understanding of things evolves.” 


To read more about the mural and the Peabody museum's renovation plans, visit the Yale News website here.

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Conservator and PSP alumna Mariana Di Giacomo talks to Yale News about assessing the 1947 painting ahead of renovations to the museum's Great Hall.

Conservator and PSP alumna Mariana Di Giacomo talks to Yale News about assessing the 1947 painting ahead of renovations to the museum's Great Hall.

12/5/2019
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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu