The five engravings offered are as follows:
– Root Tuberous – example peonia afficinalis common peony, Henderson del. 1809 w. Dunkertan
– Plants whose flowers resemble insects, the bee orchid, the fly orchid, Reinagle 1802 Hopwood
– Experiments with the bean, 2nd experiment, eye flat, Henderson del, 1799, Warner
– Granulated Saxifrage, Henderson, 1800 Warner
– Gentiana Amarella
This set departed from previous botanical works in illustrating the plants to appear oversized relative to the backgrounds, giving them an overall stately, dramatic, or even surreal appearance, and making them decidedly ahead of their time. Each illustration also had poetic narrative underpinnings, reflecting the aesthetics of English Romanticism. For example, describing the Dragon Arum print, Thornton stated that “[t]he clouds are disturbed, and every thing looks wild and somber.” Lyric poems from a variety of authors were also included throughout the text alongside the straightforward botanical descriptions. The prints of Temple of Flora are now considered the greatest achievement ever in British botanical art. The plants included range from European garden flowers such as tulips, carnations and auriculas, to exotic tropical species recently introduced to the West.
Robert John Thornton began his career as a doctor. In 1797, he opened a successful practice in London. Meanwhile, he had become deeply interested in botany under the influence of Thomas Martyn’s lectures and the writings of Linnaeus. In 1797, he also began advertising for subscribers to his planned natural history publishing venture, which eventually became known as The Temple of Flora, comprised of 30 folio botanical plates (generally issued with just 28), as well as two classical allegorical plates. It was originally published as the third section of an extensive and ambitious botanical publication titled New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus.