Colored illustration entitled: “Maggot-bearing Stapelia”, engraved by Joseph C. Stadler,  from Temple of Flora, third part of New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus : comprehending an elucidation of the several parts of the fructification ; a prize dissertation on the sexes of plants, a full explanation of the classes, and orders, of the sexual system ; and the temple of flora, or garden of nature, being picturesque, botanical, coloured plates, of select plants, illustrative of the same, with descriptions / / by Robert John Thornton… London : Printed, for the publisher, by T. Bensley ..., 1807. 

Fly Catcher

Robert John Thornton (1768-1837) was a British physician and botanic enthusiast who published perhaps the most famous florilegium, or treatise on flowers, as a tribute to the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778).  It was aimed at wealthy amateur flower fanciers rather than scientists. The most ambitious part of this work was the third part, called the Temple of Flora (1799-1807), and described as “Picturesque botanical plates, illustrative of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus.”  It included thirty-three folio-size plates of exotic flowers set in evocative backgrounds.   The color plates were designed by “all the most eminent British artists” and were engraved in aquatint, stipple and line, and hand-finished in color.  They represent a romantic notion of flower portraits set in what Thornton called “scenery appropriate to the subject,” but which was sometimes mystical and moody.   Link to the entire volume

Each plate is accompanied by commentary on the flower portrayed that is often more romantic and poetic  than scientific.  The “Maggot-bearing Stapelia” above depicts in the foreground the stapelia hirsute , a species of succulent plant with hairy and odorous flowers, that has attracted an insect and a snake, against a picturesque background of a mountain, pine trees and a stream.  Thornton’s describes the “something of an animal appearance” of the hairy flower and the horror of the scene.

Originally intended as a much larger work of 70 proposed plates, the publication ran into financial difficulties and was never completed.   Thornton depleted his fortune to publish the work and died destitute.  The images in the Temple of Flora continue to intrigue and have been popularized in several  facsimile editions and exhibitions.

Museum Number: 
f QK91 .T49 1807 Smithsonian Libraries