Robert Thornton, Temple of Flora,London, (1799 - 1807) , later an edition of 1812 entitled New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus, and the most celebrated of all English Botanical Books.
The project is unusual in several ways. The plates which vary in number in various editions are by several artists with Thornton acting as a design director. One artist would paint the flower, another the background. The backgrounds set a most imaginative precedent for the future of Flower (and Natural History) Books. The examples are set in a range of moody landscapes which usually show evidence of human activity. The impact of the plates can be seen in Daniell's illustrations to the three volums edition of ZOOGRAPHY in 1811. Thornton's Temple of Flora was a massive and ultimately financially unsuccessfully undertaking. It exploits a peculiarly English Romantic conceit of the composition without a middle distance. The quality of reproduction in the book is high, and the scale immense (an atlas folio) and the plates a cunning mixture on mezzotint, aquatint and stipple engraving with partial printing in colour supplemented by hand.


01 The Hyacinth

02 The Superb Lily

03 A Group of Auriculas


Thornton's Temple of Flora, The Narrow Leaved Kalmia aquatint 1790-1804



Ronald King (ed) The Temple of Flora (with excellent Bibliography), Weidenfield & Nicholson, London 1981.

Handasyde Buchanan, Nature Into Art , Weidenfield & Nicholson, London 1979