Member Publications

Subscribe via Email

To submit items for Of Victorian Interest or Member Publications, please email

John Holmes, Temple of Science: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Oxford Museum of Natural History

Temple of Science

The Pre-Raphaelites and the Oxford Museum of Natural History

John Holmes

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.

'Darwin, Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Gothic Revival – all are part of the extraordinary story of the Oxford Museum, brilliantly revealed.' - Stephen Wildman, Emeritus Professor of History of Art, Lancaster University

‘The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is a Victorian masterpiece, a meeting place for the arts and the sciences, for Ruskinian and Pre-Raphaelite principles and industrial modernity. In this beautifully illustrated volume, John Holmes, the leading authority on the Pre-Raphaelites and science, equally at home with the visual arts and the written word, uncovers, with élan, the history, artistry, and wider significance of this quite extraordinary Gesamtkunstwerk.’ - Elizabeth Prettejohn, Professor of History of Art, University of York 

John Holmes is Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture at the University of Birmingham.

Order online at:

Tagged as: