night-blooming cereus from Thornton's Temple of Flora

Night-Blooming Cereus from the Temple of Flora

It’s time for another post of garden-related art.  This night-blooming cereus is from The Temple of Flora.  Many people consider Robert John Thornton’s  New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus to be the greatest of all flower books, and The Temple of Flora is Part III of this masterwork of botanical science, containing all the pictures.  It’s certainly true that the engravings depicting the flowers are both beautiful and unusual.

Most botanical illustrations depict a specimen plant on a plain background.  However, the artists for The Temple of Flora depicted each specimen growing in a landscape, with a fully illustrated scene behind.  Take a look at Night-Blowing Cereus (the plant usually known as night-blooming cereus) as an example.  The artist shows us the plant and its flowers in full-colour glory, but with a church clocktower behind.  The hands of the clock point to midnight, and the moonlight touches everything with silver.  Just in case we hadn’t realised it’s night!

The artist has shown the detail of the flower itself, and everything else in the picture, in an exquisitely drawn manner.  We’re in total agreement that this book is a classic of botanical art!  We’ll bring you another plate from the series in a few week’s time.  However, if you want to find out more about the book or its author, head to the Robert John Thornton Wikipedia page.