Click main image below to view enlargements and captions.

Botanical, Art, Print, Temple of Flora, Thornton, Maggot-Bearing Stapelia, Antique Print, London, Early 19th C.


Dr. Robert John Thornton (1768?-1837) (editor)
Peter Charles Henderson (d. 1829) (artist)
Joseph Constantine Stadler (act. 1780-1812) (engraver)
The Maggot-bearing Stapelia [Stapelia Hirsuta]
from The Temple of Flora; or Garden of Nature
T. Bensley for Dr. Robert John Thornton, London: 1799-1807
Publication date: July 1, 1801
Color printed aquatint with stipple and line engraving, and hand finishing
Dunthorne summary: Second state (foreground broken up with horizontal light patches, mountain appears rocky, clouds in sky removed)
17.75 x 14 inches, image
20.5 x 15.75 inches, plate mark
22 x 17.5 inches, overall

Stapelia Hirsuta, a South African plant known for a putrid odor that attracts flies to assist in pollination, is shown in a rocky river landscape with conifers and distant mountains. The blossom has attracted a fly and a green snake, whose head pokes out from beneath the right side of the plant.

This is one of a a selection of folio botanical prints we offer from Dr. Robert Thornton’s The Temple of Flora. This set departed from previous botanical works in illustrating the plants to appear oversized relative 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.

Product description continues below.


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.

Thornton retained some of the best artists of the day to compose the various images, as well as the best engravers to translate their work into print. Most of the images were painted by Peter Charles Henderson and Philip Reinagle, with two by Abraham Pether, who also rendered the moonlight in Reinagle’s Night-blowing Cereus, one of the best-known images from the set. The remaining two plates were painted by Sydenham Edwards and Thornton himself, who created the famous plate of Roses. The engravers were a similarly distinguished group, including Richard Earlom, James Caldwall, Thomas Sutherland, and Joseph Constantine Stadler. Some of the plates are executed in one engraved or etched medium, some in a combination of two or more, including stipple engraving, aquatint, and mezzotint. They were printed in basic colors and then enhanced with hand coloring.

In 1812, Thornton had The Temple of Flora set re-engraved on a small scale for a quarto edition, with some of the compositions slightly altered. Some examples from the smaller formatted edition may have been given as prizes during the Royal Botanic Lottery under the patronage of the Prince Regent. Thornton organized the lottery when faced with bankruptcy after sales of the folio publication failed to recoup his investment, having spared no expense in its production. The lottery apparently failed to salvage his finances, and Thornton died with little money. The whereabouts of the original paintings, also included in the lottery are mostly unknown. Nevertheless, The Temple of Flora remains admired as the greatest illustrated botanical set ever published in Britain for its outstanding aesthetic and imaginative qualities.

Scholar Rodney King described this print as follows: “(Thornton describes) the flower as having ‘something of an animal appearance’ and ‘so strong a scent, resembling carrion, that blowflies in abundance hover around it, and mistaking the corolla for flesh, deposit there their eggs….Peter Henderson again did his best to capture the feeling attaching to the plant in his picture, portraying its unlovely habits and bizarre appearance and adding…the sly green head of a snake gliding noiselessly beneath the plant, with red forked tongue protruding and narrow, sinister, malevolent eye.” (Ronald King. The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p. 92.)

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall toning and wear. Professionally cleaned leaving very faint line from former matting. Abrasion lower center in brown ground area, professionally restored, unobtrusive. Plate marks all present and margins ample.


Blunt, Wilfred, rev. by Stearn, William T. The Art of Botanical Illustration. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors Club, 1994. pp. 236-242.

Dunthorne, Gordon. Flower and Fruit Prints of the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. Their History, Makers and Uses, with a Catalogue Raisonne of the Works in Which They are Found. Washington, D.C.: Published by the Author, 1938.

Grigson, Geoffrey and Handasyde Buchanan. Thornton’s Temple of Flora. London: 1951.

King, Ronald, The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton, London, Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1981.

Sitwell, Sacheverell. Great Flower Books, 1700-1900. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. pp. 77, 127.

Stafleu, Frans A. and Richard S. Cowan. Taxonomic Literature. Utrecht: 1967. 2nd ed., Utrecht: 1976-1988. TL2 8319, Tl2 14.283.

Thomas, Alan G. Great Books and Book Collectors. Littlehampton Book Services, 1975. p.144.

Thornton, Robert John and Mrs. Robert W. Ballantine. New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus: and the Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature. London: 1807. Online at Missouri Botanical Garden: (15 January 2013).

Additional information


18th Century, 19th Century