More than two centuries have passed since the publication of Robert John Thornton’s The Temple of Flora in 1799, but its charm remains unsullied. Although trained as a medical doctor, Thornton (c. 1768–1837) passionately devoted himself to botany. Only a few decades earlier, Carl Linnaeus had established his revolutionary new system of classification, which today continues to form the backbone of such natural sciences as botany and zoology. Thornton greatly honored the ingenious Swedish scientist and wished his own prodigious undertaking to serve as an ultimate monument to the great botanist.
Today, Thornton’s large-format plates with their stunning floral portraits number among supreme achievements of botanical illustration. Thornton engaged the most renowned flower painters of his age and spared no cost in the creation of this unique work. Surviving complete editions of The Temple of Flora are today among the great treasures of only a few libraries; and the individual plates have become sought-after and extremely expensive collectors’ items, whose particular allure lies in their unusual combination of monumental and at times exotic plants with highly romantic background landscapes. More than any other floral painting, the bewitchingly illuminated blossoms of the night-blooming cereus, posed before darkened ruins, conveys the late 18th-century sentiment that found its characteristic expression in the European Romantic literature and painting of the following decades.
Encompassing all the plates of The Temple of Flora, this edition represents a consummate reprint of the work. In addition to the botanical and cultural historical explanations of the individual plate illustrations, the volume narrates the history of the origin of the work and the life of its author. This resplendent reprint has been made from one of the finest complete original copies, belonging to the Missouri Botanical Garden in Saint Louis.