La Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée, Part 2
A couple of months ago, I posted photos of the modern vertebrates at the Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée, the wonderful museum that opened for the 1900 Paris world’s fair, with a promise that there would be follow-up pieces on the paleontological exhibits. As it is now Christmas, this seemed like an appropriate time to open up the next section of this candy box. Paleontology occupies both the second level and a gallery/mezzanine above, so I thought I would just present the second level at the moment, particularly since the spaces approximately divide the vertebrate and invertebrate fossils.
Most galleries of fossil land vertebrates are, let’s face it, dominated by the dinosaur skeletons. For some reason, this Paris museum is different. I’m sure that the dinosaurs are big, since some of them seem to be identical to casts that have looked very impressive in other settings. But they don’t look all that huge here. Their bulk does not impose upon or overwhelm you, and I’m sure that a lot of this comes down to the space in which they are exhibited. The gallery seems like an optical illusion to me: its proportions are such that it does not feel huge, and yet it clearly dwarfs the skeletons contained within.
There is a second reason that the dinosaurs do not seem all that large: the Ice Age mammals are utterly stupendous. Some of the mammoths are huge, but other creatures such as the ground sloth are also monstrous. These exhibits provide a superb illustration of the Pleistocene megafauna that we sadly lost just a few thousand years ago. Many of the large skeletons in this Pleistocene area are genuine, making this the highlight of the gallery; the carnivores are jaw-droppingly wonderful.
As in the zoological gallery, there are many other exhibits to see if you can manage to drag your eyes away from the large vertebrates in the middle of the room. The areas below the mezzanine are filled with cases of smaller fossils, interpretation, and dioramas. Most of the exhibits in latter two categories must be described as “period pieces,” which seems only appropriate in a gallery of this relative antiquity. I hope that they never decide that these exhibits need to be modernized, because so much would be lost. A museum can tell us so much about the time period in which it was created!