In a tropical landscape, Cupid fires his passion-inspiring arrows, usually intended for mortals, at a flower to help it propagate. This fanciful painting was made to illustrate a nineteenth-century English edition of the work of the great Swedish botanist Linnaeus, the man who gave plants the Latin names by which they are still known today, and who described their reproductive systems.
The painting of the large yellow Lilium superbum, usually hanging next to it, was made for the same book.
Here's Tim Upson of Cambridge University's Botanical Garden:
'The flower that Cupid is firing his arrow at is the bird of paradise: its Latin name is Strelitzia regina. It comes from South Africa and first flowered at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and is named in honour of Queen Charlotte, who was the Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and that's reflected in its botanical name.'
The book for which the painting was made was also dedicated to Queen Charlotte, and the publisher – Robert Thornton – saw it very much as a national undertaking, a chance for Britain to show its standing in the world of botany and fine publishing.
A sense of national pride is perhaps reflected in the flora the artist has placed around Cupid.
'What strikes me about the picture is the grouping of plants which wouldn't occur naturally, it's not a natural scheme, it's as if someone has bought all the exotic plants from around the world and plants that would have been exotic and of course very often economically important and of course many of the colonial empires were actually founded on economically important plants.'
The transcription of the audio file for this stop was enabled by the AHRC funded crowd-sourcing platform MicroPasts. The below generously gave their time to transcribe the file.
Thais, Nicola Gatfield, Michael Norman, Sarah Allen, Georgina Holmes and Anna