The Temple of Flora

Words by
David Whitworth
| September 2, 2014

Stories of unappreciated artistic genius always strike a chord, and The Temple of Flora – the unpublished final work of Robert John Thornton from the late 18th century, is no exception. The incredible images, set in weird and wonderful, sometimes epic settings, are stunning, slightly surreal, and totally romantic. Often combined with poetic odes to the featured flowers, the images take botanic illustration somewhere strange and special.

Unfortunately, this perfect weirdness couldn’t turn a profit, with (inconceivable) lack of interest from the general public to blame – not even the holding of a lottery could salvage the lavishly illustrated work from financial ruin.

Thornton had planned to publish seventy folio-sized plates, engraved in aquatint, stipple and line, and enlisted the best engravers of his time. It was to be the final instalment  of his work: The New illustration of The Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus.  A little over half were produced, before funds ran dry.

In a neat, though rather slow, reversal of fortune, the original plates are now highly prized collectors items (and highly priced); the rare treasures of few libraries. Thornton, despite a career in medicine and lecturing in medical botany, seems to have let his passion get the better of him, and died in destitution. Let’s make it up to him and show these beauties some love?

All images used in this story are out of copyright and were sourced here.

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