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Behold: “The Temple of Flora”

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The Sacred Egyptian Bean

At SpaceWhale we previously wrote a short post on one of Thornton’s magnificent works but we feel we needed to feature him on a lengthier post as he very well deserves.

Robert John Thornton (1768–1837) was an English physician and botanical writer noted for “A New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus Von Linnæus” (1797-1807) and “The British Flora” of 1812.

The Pontic Rhododendron
The Pontic Rhododendron from The Temple of Flora (1807) by Robert John Thornton. Digitally enhanced by SpaceWhaleCo

In 1799 Thornton commenced his work on the New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus a work of botanical science to be published in three parts. The first was a dissertation on the sex of plants according to the Swedish scientist, Carolus von Linnaeus and the second an exposition of the sexual system.

The Blue Egyptian Water Lily
The Blue Egyptian Water Lily from The Temple of Flora (1807) by Robert John Thornton. Digitally enhanced by SpaceWhaleCo

The most ambitious part of the “New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus Linnæus” was Part III, the “Temple of Flora” (1799-1807). The first plates were engraved by Thomas Medland in May 1798, from paintings by Philip Reinagle. Between 1798 and 1807, they produced a total of thirty-three coloured plates, engraved in aquatint, stipple and line engraving. A volume of large-format engravings of beautiful floral portraits. The work was intended as an homage to the great Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus, a man revered by Thornton for his revolutionary new system of classification, established a few decades prior. 

Hyacinths
Hyacinths from The Temple of Flora (1807) by Robert John Thornton. Digitally enhanced by SpaceWhaleCo

Thornton spared no expense in creating the plates, employing the most celebrated flower painters of the age to portray the flowers in immaculate detail. The monumental presence of the plants and their dramatic landscape backgrounds are also unique and fascinating reflections of the Romantic era within the realm of botanical illustration, a fact that rendered the original plates hugely valuable.

The Passiflora Cerulea from The Temple of Flora
The Passiflora Cerulea from The Temple of Flora (1807) by Robert John Thornton. Digitally enhanced by SpaceWhaleCo

When he planned the project, Thornton had decided to publish seventy folio-size plates. Lack of interest from the general public spelled disaster for the scheme, and the holding of a lottery could not save it from financial ruin, neither did a page in the work dedicated to the spouse of George III, Queen Charlotte, patroness of botany and the fine arts. It is estimated that around 800 copies were produced, each containing 31 plates accompanied by inspirational poetry and explanatory notes covering flower lore and legend.

Large Flowering Sensitive Plant
Large Flowering Sensitive Plant from The Temple of Flora (1807) by Robert John Thornton. Digitally enhanced by SpaceWhaleCo

Very few complete editions of The Temple of Flora exist today and the complete reprint by Taschen – accompanied by the history of the work’s origin and the life of its author is unfortunately also out of print. At SpaceWhale we are lucky to have a copy of the original book and the scans of one of the best editions and digitally enhanced in-house to produce beautiful Gicleé copies using the best Japanese Archival inks on Museum Quality Cotton papers such as Canson Infinity, Hahnemühle, Ilford Gallerie and Epson Signature Worthy.

Roses
Roses from The Temple of Flora (1807) by Robert John Thornton. Digitally enhanced by SpaceWhaleCo

Check our Thornton’s beautiful selection of prints!

References:

https://web.archive.org/web/20110929162111/http://www.audubonhouse.org/thornton/thornton.cfm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_John_Thornton


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Robert_John_Thornton

“Thornton, Robert John (THNN786RJ)”. A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.

Lazarus, M. H.; Pardoe, H. S., eds. (2003). Catalogue of Botanical Prints and Drawings at the National Museums & Galleries of Wales. National Museums & Galleries of Wales. ISBN 978-0-7200-0525-7.

Thornton, Robert John (1807). New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus :and the temple of Flora, or garden of nature. – Biodiversity Heritage Library. London. Retrieved 17 January 2018.

Audubon House Gallery of Natural History. “Dr. Robert John Thornton”. Archived from the original on 2011-09-29.