Robert Thornton’s ‘Temple of Flora’

Today, I managed to find a plate from one of the finest books ever made. It is the frontispiece to folio size of #TempleofFlora by #Dr.RobertJohnThornton published in 1807. Robert Thornton (1768-1837) was the son of Bonnell Thornton an English poet, essayist, and critic. Robert was studying at Trinity College, Cambridge for ordination into the Church when he was inspired by lectures given by Thomas Murray on botany and the work of Linnaeus. He eventually worked at Guys Hospital in London where he lectured on medical botany. Robert also traveled but settled in London to work. He, after the deaths of his mother and brother, inherited the family fortune.

Dr. Thornton’s homage to Linnaeus was his publishing of New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus Von Linnaeus of which The Temple of Flora was the third and final part. The large folio sized floral prints are considered by many to be the most magnificent such work ever produced. Each print was the result of a mixture of elaborate engraving processes often employing mezzotint, aquatint, etching and line engraving on a single plate. The plates were printed in colour and finished by hand.

One might think that such a work would be successful but it failed to pique public interest. There were to be some 70 plates overall but when support for the work could not be found only around 33 plates were finished. They were collaborations between some of the best artists of the day. Paintings by Reinagle and Henderson were turned into engravings by Thomas Medland and Joseph Stadler as well as others.

The plate, as I said, is the frontispiece for Temple of Flora and shows ‘Cupid Inspiring Plants with Love’. The plant he is shooting at is Strelitzia reginae or ‘Queen plant’. Thomas Burke engraved it after a painting by Philip Reinagle and Thornton published it in 1805. A superb print executed with exquisite skill and artistry.

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