Romantic Landscapes: The Temple of Flora

Nature and beauty were among the gods of English Romanticism, so it is not surprising to find evidence of a romantic sensibility in the illustrations of flowers and trees during the Romantic period. In Dr. Robert John Thornton's New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus (1798-1807), better known by the subtitle of one of its parts, The Temple of Flora, flowers are portrayed against landscapes of an evocative and poetic character. Thornton himself drew only the rose depicted in the work; the other thirty plates were drawn by Peter Henderson, Philip Reinagle, and Sydenham Edwards. The flowers are shown against brooding romantic backgrounds, a device that encourages the multilevel approach to the contemplation of floral illustration as an aspect of both science and art. The backgrounds also reflect the literary fascination with the symbolic power of flowers, a fascination that achieves its apotheosis in William Wordsworth's "crowd, a host of golden daffodils."

Although it was an aesthetic success, The Temple of Flora was not a financial one and Thornton had to struggle to avoid bankruptcy. He blamed his commercial failure on the ruinous taxes that the British public was forced to pay to finance the war with Napoleon. Thornton's addition of an anti-war poem into his text may have mitigated somewhat his displeasure with the government.


Robert John Thornton. New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus ... The Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature. London: Printed for the Author by T. Bensley, 1798-1807.
The New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection.


Mores Images from The Temple of Flora

Collection Guide: Nature Illustrated: Flowers, Plants, and Trees, 1550-1900

About the Print Collection

Library Catalog Record