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A stunning achievement in botanical illustration
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 number today among the great treasures of only a few libraries; meanwhile, the individual plates have become sought-after and extremely expensive collectors’ items, whose particular allure lies in their unusual combination of monumental, 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 darkening ruins, expresses the late 18th-century sentiment that in the following decades found its characteristic expression in European Romantic literature and painting.
Including 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 St. Louis.
Werner Dressendörfer is a pharmaceutical historian and academic librarian. He taught at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, where he was an honorary professor. His particular spheres of interest are the history of the Early Modern herbal, the cultural history of useful and medicinal plants, and plant symbolism in art. He has published extensively on pharmaceutical and botanical history.