Robert Thornton’s ‘The Temple of Flora’

Robert Thornton, florilegium, Mrs Morgan's Florilegium, transit of Venus, Natalie Waddell,

In 1797, an influential physician, wealthy heir, and botanic enthusiast named Dr. Robert John Thornton (1768-1837) undertook the task of producing a flower book that would establish Britain as the preeminent publisher of artistic and scientific works.

An exploration into the “philosophical principles of botany,” the florilegium (book of flowers) would dazzle royal subscribers with patriotic allegories, and daunt contemporary French illustrators with exquisite full-color plates.

In homage to the great Swedish naturalist, it was titled The New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus.

While its ambitious publication – largely self-funded, hugely expensive, and unsurpassed in grandeur of the period – would fall short of its initial prospectus, and ultimately leave its author in financial ruins, it would also be celebrated as one of the most spectacular works of botanic literature and illustration ever produced.


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