Dr. Thornton was the lecturer on medical botany at
Guy’s Hospital in London when in 1797 he embarked upon publishing his
ground-breaking work, “The Temple of Flora or Picturesque Botanical
Plates of the New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linneaus.”
Dr. Thornton spared no expense, committing his fortune and family
inheritance in producing the most lavishly illustrated large folio
flower book to date. He employed not only the most accomplished
botanical artists, portraitists, engravers and landscape artists (to
show the each plant in its “natural, allegorical or fanciful”
surroundings) but he also commissioned poets to pen original odes to
each flowering plant illustrated.
Unfortunately his gamble did not pay off; the project was a financial
disaster and virtually bankrupted Dr. Thornton. Undertaken at a time
of war, subscribers were hard to come by and publication was abruptly
halted at thirty plates; less than half of the original intention of
seventy to ninety finished engravings. In 1812, Dr. Thornton was
forced to raffle off the original drawings, paintings, unsold folios,
remaining plates and a small quarto “lottery edition” of “The Temple
of Flora” to satisfy the enormous debts of the publication.
Fortunately, subsequent generations have come to recognize the
unsurpassed beauty of Thornton’s endeavor. “The Temple of Flora”
continues to this day to be widely regarded as one of the most
magnificent works of botanical illustration of all time.