Friday, June 4, 2010


The painting on the cover of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara shows a convoy of dinosaurs and people crossing the desert, passing huge statues from one of Dinotopia’s ancient civilization.

As I painted the fallen stone face on the right side of the picture, I was thinking of Percy B. Shelley’s 1818 sonnet “Ozymandias,” which describes a traveler’s encounter with a colossal ancient statue in the desert: “Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies.”

The inscription on the stone at the lower left echoes Shelley’s theme of the mute arrogance of a vanished civilization. The phrase says “EVERLASTING DOMINION” in Dinotopian footprint alphabet, ancient Greek, and Aramaic (written with Hebrew letters).

The features on the fallen face in the painting are based not on Egyptian forms, but on casts of Michelangelo's David.

The painting is on view in "The Fantastical Art of James Gurney" which opens at the Norton Museum tomorrow.
The Dinotopia online store, where you can order a signed copy of Journey to Chandara.
Dinotopia Wiki on the Footprint Alphabet
Wikipedia on the poem Ozymandias
Previous GJ post on using plaster casts, including the David casts.


Mary Bullock said...

SOOOOOOO COOOOOOOOl!!!! I love hidden messages like that.

Darren said...
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Darren said...

(: ?werbeH ekil tfel ot thgir nettirw tnirptoof naipotoniD sI

(Is Dinotopian footprint written right to left like Hebrew? :))

Conor Wilson said...

Have bought you're book after linking and regularly checking your blog, it is a great resource and inspirational. I am an artist UK based, and regularly check in on your work....superb
All the best


Paul Allan Ballard said...

I love the Gerome feeling of this painting. And those hidden messages make the world all more real.

James Gurney said...

Thanks for the kind words. Glad you enjoy the book!

Conor, I believe it is written right to left. I asked a scholar at Bard College, Dr. Bruce Chilton, to help me with the translations, and I just copied verbatim what he gave me.

I'm sure we'll get an expert commenting on this, but as I understand it, Aramaic was mostly a spoken language and didn't have a written script, so it's rendered in Hebrew letters.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Paul. Gerome was definitely an influence, but also Leon Belly, another French orientalist.

Bob Mrotek said...

You have an incredible imagination. You are my leader. Lead on...!

My Pen Name said...

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Wendy said...

Thats one of my favorite Dinotopia paintings! Just out of curiosity; what size is the origional?

traumador said...

I thought that face was familiar!

Very cool!

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Anonymous said...

I still get POed reading about Vassar and other college art departments destroying their cast collections. No doubt the casts were a painful reminder of their own ineptitude.

Hebrew and Aramaic does indeed read right to left. The Strong's Lexicon numbers for the inscription are 4438, 3605, and (variant)5769.

Amy Lilley Designs said...

I just found some amazing stones @ the beach and I was reminded of Hebrew letters along w/, possibly a musical note...but, certain that there is a hidden message in there for me (just posted) the painting..:)

James Gurney said...

Etc: Thanks for that reference to the Strong's Lexicon, and I agree with you about the tragedy of the art schools in the '60s and '70s destroying the classical casts. You just can't make those things again.

Amy: How magical! I have a whole box of mysterious rocks like that.

Wendy: The painting is 14x28, I believe. Not too big.

goat89 said...

Oh wow! This is wicked! I should pay more attention! ><

groperofeuropa said...

You know there was a second Ozymandias poem written by someone else who worked with Shelley on the original? I'll post it here to save a google if anyone's interested, but before I do-

Is there a large version of the Chandara cover available anywhere for say, a desktop background image? I just realised that although I can see the front cover of the book from where I'm sitting, the back cover is quite a nice extension as well... Roger Dean has a set of his up and they're absolutely glorious. This isn't one of them but OH THE WIT.


de powemm:

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand." The City's gone,
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
—Horace Smith. (wikipedia)

David Glenn said...

Very cool. I like translating the Dinotopian messages. I managed to translate a parchment in the book Dinotopia: The World Beneath that said "A King's treasure entrust to a king's protection." I thought Journey to Chandara was a good book.

Unknown said...

Don't know if this was mentioned already, but the Hebrew (not Aramaic!) is straight from Psalms 145:13. Wouldn't be surprised if the Greek was from the LXX version of that verse. (Note that the Hebrew is not just written in modern-looking letters, it has vowel-marks, the hyphen punctuation, and I think even cantillations-marks).