Engraved by James Hopwood (English, 1745/54–1819)
After a painting by Peter Charles Henderson
(English, active 1799–d. 1829)
Published by Dr. Robert John Thornton
(English, ca. 1768–1837)
The Quadrangular Passion Flower, 1802
London, England
Aquatint with engraved text and printed and hand coloring
Lent by the Chipstone Foundation, 1952.29

Dr. Robert Thornton of London was a practicing physician with a strong interest in medical botany and natural history. In 1797 he announced his publication called New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus, a three-volume tribute to the famed Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. The illustrations were drawn by a number of professional artists who were contracted by Thornton. The aquatint shown here, from the third volume entitled The Temple of Flora, shows a passionflower, a native species from Jamaica that was first successfully transplanted to England in 1768. Thornton placed the flower within a highly imaginative setting that evokes an English garden replete with a thick Doric column that supports the plant’s climbing vine. Equally inventive written descriptions accompany the images in The Temple of Flora, often combining scientific description with Romantic poetry.  The various parts of the passionflower are likened to imagery from the Passion of Christ and imbued with divine attributes:

In polish'd censers, wrought with wondrous care,
Five cherub boys the holy incense bear;
Three pious virgins form her holy train,
Join in her pray'rs, and weep the "Lamb that's slain."

Here, the “five cherub boys” are the plant’s five stamens, and the “three pious virgins” are its three styles.