Dr. Robert Thornton Pl. 2, Cupid Inspiring the Plants with Love

Temple of Flora, 1797-1810

Laura Oppenheimer

Dr. Robert Thornton Pl. 2, Cupid Inspiring the Plants with Love, Temple of Flora, 1797–1810 

Pl. 2, Cupid Inspiring the Plants with Love, an exquisite stipple engraving, partially printed in color and finished by hand from Dr. Robert Thornton’s celebrated Temple of Flora. The plate features the Roman god of love, Cupid, aiming his quiver at the Bird of Paradise, Strelitzia reginae, or Queen Flower, in honor of Queen Charlotte. The portrayal of the romantic ideal of love in relation to the plants is based upon Thornton’s analogy of Linneaus’ sexual system of plants to human love. Painted by the British artist Philip Reinagle (b. 1749, Edinburgh – d. 1837, London), who produced 11 paintings for the work, an uncolored plate was first issued in 1800, engraved by Bartolozzi and Landseer. In 1805, it was re-engraved and republished in color, with a slight change of the position of the parakeet, which faces to the left in the color version and to the right in the uncolored one. Published in London on June 1, 1805, engraved by Burke after Reinagle.

(Wilfrid Blunt, The Art of Botanical Illustration; Dunthorne, Flower and Fruit Prints; The Temple of Flora, Robert Thornton, Introduction by Ronald King)

An extremely rare botanical work, The Cupid Inspiring the Plants with Love is in perfect condition with excellent color; 23-1/2 x 18-1/2 inches.

Dr. Robert Thornton’s Temple of Flora (1798–1810), the third and final part of his New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus, is perhaps the single most famous of all florilegia. The driving force and visionary behind the creation of this great work, Thornton employed other artists and engravers to produce it. Printed in color and finished by hand, a variety of techniques were used, including aquatint, mezzotint, stipple, and line engraving. Most plates were altered at various points, resulting in as many as four distinct states for some images.

Dr. Robert Thornton (c. 1768–1837) intended to issue 70 plates dramatically and poetically illustrating Linnaeus’ discoveries about the sexual system of plants. In actuality, only 33 plates were completed before the well-stationed physician faced financial ruin. The project fell victim to Thornton’s fanatical attention to detail and changing tastes of a social elite, who had become somewhat jaded by the preponderance of great flower books created during this period. When Thornton died in 1837 his family was nearly destitute. Despite his setbacks, Thornton’s epic depictions of flowers are celebrated as one of the most significant artistic contributions to botanical art of that period.

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