Dr. Robert John Thornton

Browse botanical engravings by Dr. Thornton

DR. ROBERT JOHN THORNTON, English (1768-1837)

Thornton's great work, The Temple of Flora, 1797-1812 is the most famous English botanical plate book. Thornton was trained as a medical doctor and was appointed both physician to the Marylebone Dispensary and lecturer in medical botany at Guy's and St. Thomas's hospitals. Early in his career he embarked on his great work, publishing a grand botanical book which was dedicated to Linnaeus and illustrated 28 exotic flowers with elaborate alegorical frontispieces. The best English artists of the day (including Philip Reinagle, Sydenham Edwards and Peter Henderson among others) were engaged to paint the flowers with their stage set like backgrounds. Thornton himself arranged the compositions with exotic international settings showing the origins of best loved English garden flowers.

Several etching and printing techniques were used to accomplish the botanical engravings. Mezzotint, aquatint, line engraving were all employed along with color printing and hand coloring to achieve Dr. Thornton's vision. Ever the perfectionist, Thornton tweaked the compositions during publication so that most plates have several identifiable states.

Although trained as a physician and fascinated by botany, Thornton was a terrible business man. "The result... involved Thornton in desperate financial straits... "But he produced... one of the loveliest books in the world" (Alan Thomas Great Books and Book Collecting).

Ref., Dunthorne, Ronald King. The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981.