Robert John Thornton (1768-1837)
A selection of 11 plates from New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus . . . the Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature. London: T. Bensley for the publisher, [no date but plates dated 1798-1805]. 11 plates (599 x 478mm. and smaller) colour-printed in aquatint and mezzotint and finished by hand. Framed and glazed.
A GOOD SELECTION FROM THIS MAJESTIC WORK, INCLUDING MOST OF THE MOST FAMOUS IMAGES. The selection comprises:
1. Roses, by Earlom after Thornton, 1 October 1805, 552 x 420mm. Late impression.
2. A Group of Carnations, by Caldwall after Henderson, 2 April 1803, 580 x 472mm. Earlier impression, before removal of sky.
3. A Group of [four] Auriculas, by Lewis & Hopwood after Henderson, 1 May 1803, 599 x 478mm. Early impression. (Small 25mm. tear to upper margin).
4. Tulips, by Earlom after Reinagle, 1 May 1798, 561 x 436mm. Early impression.
5. The Nodding Renealmia, by Caldwall after Henderson, 1 November 1801, 586 x 462mm.
6. The Winged Passion Flower, by Warner after Henderson, 1 June 1802, 537 x 431mm.
7. The Quadrangular Passion-flower, by Hopwood after Henderson, 1 June 1802, 558 x 426mm.
8. The White Lily, by Stadler after Henderson, 1 August 1800, 545 x 420mm. Early impression.
9. The Superb Lily, by Earlom after Reinagle, 1 June 1799, 561 x 432mm. Later state of the Earlom plate. This image was also engraved by Ward.
10.The Pontic Rhododendron, by Caldwall after Hnederson, 1 December 1802, 550 x 435mm.
11.The China Limodoron, Landseer after Henderson, 1 February 1802, 550 x 435mm.
Although it caused his ruin, Thornton produced " ... the most strikingly beautiful set of flower plates ever to be printed in England, [and] one of the loveliest books in the world" (see Alan Thomas's account in Great Books and Book Collectors pp. 142-44). However, its publication history was complex, leading Buchanan to state that "no two copies of this book are alike". Even the title was not used consistently. What is now universally known as The Temple of Flora is the final portion of a work which Thornton announced to the public in 1797 as a New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus. Dedicated to Queen Charlotte, George III's consort, the plates were very carefully directed by Thornton who was not just the publisher but the presiding genius of the work. Influenced by contemporary aesthetic theory, no less than the botanical discoveries of Linnaeus and their neoclassical versification by Erasmus Darwin, he selected the plants to be shown, arranged the symbolism and chose the backgrounds in a way that turned the science of botany into a drama of exotic form in visionary landscapes. There is no more magnificent English flower book. Cf.Dunthorne 301; cf.Great Flower Books p. 77; cf.Nissen BBI 1955; cf.Stafleu & Cowan 14.283. (11)