Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Temple of Flora

The Superb Lily

The Maggot-Bearing Stapelia

The Sacred Egyptian Bean


The Night-Blowing Cereus

The Large Flowering Sensitive Plant

The Nodding Renealmia

The grandiose vision of botanist Dr Robert Thornton (1768-1837) was to restore Britain to her rightful artistic place, ahead of France and Germany, with the release in subscription form of his opus, The Temple of Flora, over a few years at the beginning of the 19th century.

Thornton inherited the family fortune in 1799 which allowed him to leave medicine and concentrate on his botanical interests. Royal patronage, world exploration and specimen collection and a quest for scientific knowledge encouraged an expansion in botanical illustration.

Thornton's plan, in part a homage to Linnaeus, was to release a 3 volume set divided into sexual characteristics, nomenclature and his beloved images. The best artists and engravers of the day were commissioned. Thornton himself was the artistic director but he also contributed some painting and engraving to the enterprise.

Unfortunately, war broke out and coupled with a downturn in interest for such an elaborate publication, great financial losses were sustained. Despite running a lottery for a smaller quarto edition, the venture ultimately sent Thornton bankrupt and he was destitute at the time of his death. From a proposal that included 70 illustrations, a total of 33 hand-coloured mezzotint engravings were eventually completed by 1807.

The embellished and at times surreal nature of the images were to be the lasting value of Thornton's Temple of Flora. Unusually, specimens were portrayed in unnatural landscape settings which Thornton wove in as part of the text, reducing the scientific importance even further. For one image he wrote: "The clouds are disturbed, and every thing looks wild and sombre about the dragon ARUM, a plant equally poisonous as fetid."


Anonymous said...

The Night-Blowing Cereus illustration graces the cover of a book I own—a translation of García Lorca’s Poema del Cante Jondo. I admit that I hadn’t wondered where this picture originated, but I’m glad to know about it now. These (as usual) are wonderful images—thank you.

peacay said...

I had a bit of a deja vu moment when I first saw a few of the flowers. No doubt many of them grace the covers books. (I'm sure someone out there must compile stats about origins of bookcovers?)
And of course, poster sites dominate search results. I seem to recall seeing the full set of 33 prints available for $US12,000.

The Crafty-Girl™ said...

oh...for a love of eclectic images and illustrations, your blog is a dream come true. I'll be sure to post and pass the word...thanks!

Chris Freeland said...

This title is online at Botanicus, the Missouri Botanical Garden's Digital Library Portal.

Diane Dehler said...

I love the rare flowers and I'm definitely coming back. You have a great blog.

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