Built between 1855 and 1860, Oxford University Museum of Natural History is the extraordinary result of close collaboration between artists and scientists. Inspired by John Ruskin, the architect Benjamin Woodward and the Oxford scientists worked with leading Pre-Raphaelite artists on the design and decoration of the building. The decorative art was modelled on the Pre-Raphaelite principle of meticulous observation of nature, itself indebted to science, while individual artists designed architectural details and carved portrait statues of influential scientists. The entire structure was an experiment in using architecture and art to communicate natural history, modern science and natural theology.
Temple of Science sets out the history of the campaign to build the museum before taking the reader on a tour of art in the museum itself. It looks at the façade and the central court, with their beautiful natural history carvings and marble columns illustrating different geological strata, and at the pantheon of scientists. Together they form the world’s finest collection of Pre-Raphaelite sculpture. The story of one of the most remarkable collaborations between scientists and artists in European art is told here with lavish illustrations.