Dr. Robert John Thornton (c.1765-1832)
Temple of Flora
London: Dr. Thornton, 1799-1807
Dr. Robert Thornton was determined that his country produce the greatest series of botanical illustrations of all time, and his Temple of Flora is unsurpassed as a botanical document of the Romantic era. Thornton assembled the finest flower painters to paint the original designs that served as the basis for the engravings, and no expense was spared in their production. They are the first botanicals to include landscape backgrounds laden with symbolic, sentimental, and dramatic elements. It is the forceful stylization of flowers, as well as their historical, allegorical and/or fanciful backgrounds, that place the Temple of Flora among the greatest botanical books of all time. The work was first issued in parts between 1799 and l807. Thornton intended the work as a pictorial celebration, accompanied by prose and verse text, of the classification system of Linnaeus. He employed the artists Peter Henderson, Philipp Reinagle, and others to paint the plants, each in an exotic and romantic setting. Thornton exhausted his fortune on the book’s production, but in the process he created one of the most beautiful and distinctive works of botanical art of the modern era.