What is ‘The Temple of Flora’?

What is The Temple of Flora?

The Temple of Flora is the third part of Thornton’s New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus. His intention was that this would comprise ‘picturesque botanical plates’ depicting the sexual system of classification.

As Thornton was not himself an accomplished artist, he employed a selection of the best British artists and engravers available to bring his vision to life, including Philip Reinagle, Sydenham Edwards and Peter Henderson.
Thornton arranged the compositions himself, placing the flowers in settings to reflect their exotic origins. Several etching and printing techniques were used to create the engravings including mezzotint, aquatint, and line engraving.
The financial difficulties that Thornton faced made it impossible for him to keep up a regular production schedule and so plates were produced on an irregular basis. In total, 33 plates were produced between 1798 and 1807.
As well as detailed illustrations of plant species, Temple of Flora included a more whimsical illustration Cupid Inspiring Plants with Love. Meanwhile other plates show a darker side to the natural world such as the depiction of the Dragon Arum.
Thornton’s accompanying text is dramatic and evocative: “SHE comes peeping from her purple crest with mischief fraught: from her green covert projects a horrid spear of darkest jet, which she brandishes aloft: issuing from her nostrils flies a noisome vapour, infecting the ambient air: her hundred arms are interspersed with white, as in the garments of the inquisition; and on her swollen trunk are observed the speckles of a mighty dragon; her sex is strangely intermingled with the opposite ! confusion dire ! -all framed for horror; or kind to warn the traveller that her fruits are poison-berries, grateful to the sight but fatal to the taste; such is the plan of PROVIDENCE, and such HER wise resolves.”

Teylers Museum

Taken from the original illustrations held in the libraries of Teylers Museum in the Netherlands, the collection contains 30 color plates from The Temple of Flora, the third part of Thornton’s masterpiece New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus.