Who was Robert John Thornton?
Thornton began travelling through Europe
Following the deaths of both his brother and his mother, Thornton inherited the family fortune and began travelling. To gain further professional experience, he visited Paris, Holland, Germany, Edinburgh and Dublin.
In 1797, Thornton began practicing medicine in London and was the physician to the Marylebone dispensary for four years. He also spent time working at Guy’s Hospital in London where he became the lecturer of medical botany and is reported to have introduced the use of digitalis (foxglove) to treat scarlet fever.
New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus
It was also in 1797 that Thornton began his great work New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus. Created as result of the 18th century fascination for exploration and discovery, it was intended to showcase the talents of British artists while celebrating the Linnean system of classification, developed by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.
Often referred to as the ‘father of modern taxonomy’, Carl Linnaeus formalized the modern system of naming organisms. During the mid-1700s, Linnaeus made several journeys to collect and classify animals, plants and minerals. In particular Linnaeus studied the sexual reproduction of plants and in 1729 wrote a thesis on the subject.
The Temple of Flora
In New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus, Thornton created a collection of evocative illustrations, reflecting Linnaeus’s system of classification. The Temple of Flora is the third part of the New Illustration.
Exhibition in gallery in London
For New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus, Thornton originally planned to issue 70 folio size color plates. In 1803, he opened a gallery in London where he exhibited his paintings and sold catalogs to gain publicity which he hoped would lead to subscriptions for his work.