Sunday, 6 October 2013

Flowermania


I don’t like cut flowers, but I do collect gorgeous flower illustrations. Usually of orchids, but occasionally something special crops up, if you’ll forgive the expression.

Take Robert Thornton’s Temple of Flora (1807), for instance, now in the public domain.

It’s the third and final part of Robert John Thornton’s new illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus, considered by many to be the greatest of all flower books.

It consists of a series of sumptuous depictions of flowers notable for their epic and unusual settings. Interwoven amongst the images are various descriptions, histories and poetic odes regarding the flowers featured. The first plates were engraved by Thomas Medland in May 1798 from paintings by Philip Reinagle.

Between 1798 and 1807 they produced a total of 33 beautiful coloured plates, engraved in aquatint, stipple and line. Others engravers included Joseph Constantine Stadler working from the painting of Peter Charles Henderson. When he planned the project, Thornton had decided to publish seventy folio-size plates. Lack of interest from the general public spelled disaster for the scheme, and the holding of a lottery could not save it from financial ruin, neither did a page in the work dedicated to the spouse of George III, Queen Charlotte, patroness of botany and the fine arts.

Check out these fabulous tulips. You can see why tulipmania was real. And who could resist these winged passion flowers?

The whole book is available on Botanicus.