Friday, December 19, 2008
All worship at the Temple of Flora!
Leave it to Taschen. It's not every day that a book floors me not only with its over-the-top production quality and subject matter, but also with its connection to my artistic past.
Taschen Books is, of course, the premier publisher of "art, anthropology, and aphrodisia," printing new works of provocative painters and photographers as well as reissuing long out-of-print, highly sought volumes from the history of the book trade. One of this season's offerings is The Temple of Flora, one of the masterpieces of botanical illustration.
In 1799, English physician and botanical writer Robert John Thornton commissioned the world's most renowned painters to create 33 plates showing exotic plants in unusual, romantic settings. The resulting folio, The Temple of Flora, took nine years and all of Thornton's wealth before it could be published in a print run of only 300 copies. He died penniless but will forever be a hero to those who appreciate the life and sense of wonder he brought to this early scientific work.
When I was in college studying botany and the history of art, I had the good fortune to glimpse a miniature reproduction of this rare work. Ever since then, I've scoured rare book libraries and collections looking for a full-sized copy. And so today, when I visited Builders Booksource here on Fourth Street, my jaw dropped when I saw the new Taschen edition of this holy grail of botanical illustration. Fantastic undertakings such as this renew my faith in publishing and in the ability of beautiful art to bridge the gap between art and science. Thank you, Taschen!