Robert John Thornton

Robert John Thornton. Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature. London, 1807.

Robert John Thornton. Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature. London, 1807.

Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature, the third and final part of  Dr Robert John Thornton's (1768–1837) New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus, is probably the most sumptuous and renowned of all great flower books. The twenty-eight illustrations in the Temple of Flora are the most overtly dramatic in the history of botany.

Each plant is characterised against an evocative background which depicts their exotic origins, the seasons and times of their flowering, their emotional associations and their socio-political connotations. The book was a commercial failure which consumed Thornton’s fortune. As a promotional exercise in 1804 he exhibited the originals of his plates, and in 1811 an act of parliament authorized his ‘Royal Botanical Lottery’, for which he issued 20,000 tickets at 2 guineas each. The top prize was the set of original paintings, with other prizes of his printed illustrations and texts. In spite of his efforts to market his publications, his finances never recovered. When he died in 1837, his family was almost destitute.