Robert John Thornton (1768–1837) was an English medical doctor with a love for botany. He was a member of the University of Cambridge, and the Royal London College of Physicians.
Thornton is best known for the his dramatic large folio plates of The Temple of Flora published in 1799. Complete volumes and even individual prints of The Temple of Flora are rare and found in the rare book rooms of museums and institutions. Although considered a masterpiece now, it was not successful at the time of publication and was never completed.
Elements of Botany was published in 1812 two volumes just after The Temple of Flora. Many of the prints of Elements of Botany are like studies for the larger prints in The Temple of Flora.
The prints, or plates, are made by a form of printing called copper plate engraving. This is a time-consuming detailed printing process which creates a print with rich fine lines. Historically this process has been used by important artists such as Albrecht Dürer and Peter Paul Rubens.