Book of the Week: Floral Masterpiece from Biodiversity Heritage Library on iTunes U

View Full Size Image
In case you missed our post earlier this week, the Biodiversity Heritage Library is now on iTunes U. From our provider page, you can now download select BHL content through iTunes to your desktop or mobile device, i.e. iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone. And, all for free, of course! We currently have 8 collections available, including:

You can learn more about iTunes U through Apple’s website.

For our Book of the Week this week, we’re featuring one of the classics from our iTunes U collection Floral Mania, which consists of some of the most beautiful and unusual illustrations of flowering plants in BHL. Today, we present New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus: and the Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature (1807), by Robert John Thornton.

View Full Size Image

Robert John Thornton was an English physician and botanical writer. After hearing Thomas Martyn’s lectures on botany and Linnaeus, he decided to practice medicine rather than his previously-chosen profession in the church. He worked and lectured in medical botany at Guy’s Hospital in London, and at the end of the eighteenth century began working on his ambitious project New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus.

New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus is a three-part work, the third part (Temple of Flora) of which was intended to have seventy folio-sized plates. Work on the plates began in May 1798, and the first plates were engraved by Thomas Medland after paintings by Philip Reinagle. The plates were engraved in aquatint, stipple and line.

View Full Size Image
The work, unfortunately, proved to be Thornton’s demise. The expense of the project drained his financial assets, and Thornton was unable to generate significant public interest in the work. To save the project and ensure its completion, a public lottery and a dedication within the work to Queen Charlotte, patroness of botany and fine arts, were ventured, but without success. Only thirty-three colored plates were completed between 1798-1807, and Thornton died in destitution.

It is a tragedy that Thornton’s life ended so sadly when his work is now deemed a remarkable masterpiece. We pay him tribute for the incredible achievements of his life and are proud to feature just a few of the stunning illustrations from his creation in this post. You can access New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus: and the Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature (1807) on BHL and within the Floral Mania collection of iTunes U, both for free of course! See all of the illustrations from this masterpiece on our Flickr account and tell us which is your favorite.

View Full Size Image

Avatar for Grace Costantino
Written by

Grace Costantino served as the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library from 2014 to 2021. In this capacity, she developed and managed BHL's communication strategy, oversaw social media initiatives, and engaged with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL. Prior to her role as Outreach and Communication Manager, Grace served as the Digital Collections Librarian for Smithsonian Libraries and as the Program Manager for BHL.