The Old Print Shop

Dr. Robert John Thornton


Dr. Robert John Thornton was a medical botany lecturer at Guy's Hospital in London. He is best known for his lavishly illustrated botanical book "The Temple of Flora" (1799-1810), which was the third and final book in the "New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus" series. The series was dedicated to explaining the sexual reproduction of plants, the Linnaean taxonomy for them and illustrating plants, life sized and in their natural environment, over the course of what was supposed to be seventy plates. Unfortunately, financial troubles spelled an early demise for the series, resulting in only thirty-one plates being produced. Despite this, "The Temple of Flora" is regarded as one of the most spectacular botanical books ever created. Gordon Dunthorne, in his art history book "Flower and Fruit Prints of the 18th and early 19th Centuries" (1938) describes the prints as being "...engraved on a larger scale than anything which had hitherto appeared and then were basically printed in colour, an expensive and uncommon method in England at this time."

To bring his ambitious project to life, Thornton employed such well-known artists as Philip Reinagle, Abraham Pether, Sydenham Edwards and Peter Henderson, and engravers Richard Earlom, Robert Dunkarton and James Caldwall, to name a few.