Scientist of the Day - Robert Thornton
Robert Thornton, English artist and publisher, died Jan. 21, 1837. In 1799, Thornton began to issue a series of large floral plates. They were commissioned from the best botanical artists of the time, and were printed in a combination of mezzotint, stipple engraving, and aquatint. In 1807, thirty-three of these plates were bound up in a volume called The Temple of Flora. This has to be one of the most stunning and elegant botanical publications of all time. Several of the plates are quite famous, such as "Roses" or "Tulips;" you have almost certainly seen them on greeting cards or calendars or placemats or such. The grandeur of the prints was no consolation to Thornton, for the expense of publication far outweighed income from sales, and he went bankrupt and died a pauper.
We exhibited the Temple of Flora as part of our Grandeur of Life exhibition in 2009; the online version shows the “Sacred Lotus” and the “Blue Egyptian Water Lily”. The “Sacred Lotus” is also reproduced above, along with, in order, the “Night-Blooming Cereus”, the “Large Sensitive Plant,” and the “Oblique-Leaved Begonia.” We also have 7 Thornton plates, in facsimile, hanging up in the outer reading room of the History of Science Center, should you ever be in the Library.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City