THORNTON, Robert John (1768-1837). New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus ... the Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature. London: T. Bensley for the publisher, -1807.
3 parts bound in one volume, broadsheets (567 x 443mm). Part i: engraved half-title 'A British Trophy ...'; engraved portrait of Thornton by F. Bartolozzi after Russell; engraved additional title; engraved portrait of Linnaeus by H. Meyer after Hollman and Bartolozzi; engraved portrait of Queen Charlotte by Bartolozzi after W. Beechy; engraved dedication; 3 engraved tables; engraved part-title 'The Prize Dissertation'; engraved plates of 'Farina of Flowers', 'The Universal Power of Love', and portrait of Sir Thomas Millington. Letterpress title and 20 text leaves \Kp\k1-8\Kp\k1 (including dedication and part-title) a-g1 g*1 h*1 h-s1. Part ii: engraved part-title; mezzotint portrait of Linnaeus in Lapland dress by Dunkarton after Hoffman [Dunthorne's state B]; 2 engraved tables. 7 text leaves \Kp\k1-3\Kp\k1 (including half-title) a-b1 \Kc\k1-3\Kc\k1. Part iii: engraved title on 2 sheets; engraved table of contents; engraved dedication on 2 sheets; engraved part-title; 3 plates: 'Flora Dispensing her Favours on Earth' (aquatint and stipple engraved, hand-coloured), and 'Aesculapius, Flora, Ceres and Cupid ...' and 'Cupid Inspiring the Plants with Love' (colour-printed stipple-engravings finished by hand); 28 mezzotint and/or aquatint engraved plates printed in colours and/coloured by hand, comprising: 'The Snowdrop' [Dunthorne state I]; 'The Persian Cyclamen' [II]; 'Hyacinths' [II]; 'Roses' [I]; 'A Group of Carnations' [I]; 'A Group of Auriculas' [two only, I]; 'Tulips' [I]; 'The Queen'; 'The Aloe' [I]; 'The Nodding Renealmia' [I]; 'The Night Blowing Cereus' [B, I]; 'The Oblique-Leaved Begonia' [I]; 'Large Flowering Sensitive Plant' [II]; 'The Blue Passion Flower' [II]; 'The Winged Passion Flower' [II]; 'The Quadrangular Passion Flower' [II]; 'The White Lily' [I]; 'The Superb Lily' [A, I]; 'The Dragon Arum' [II]; 'The Maggot-Bearing Stapelia' [I]; 'American Bog Plants' [II]; 'The Pontic Rhododendron'; 'The American Cowslip' [II]; 'The Narrow Leaved Kalmia'; 'The China Limodoron'; 'The Indian Reed' [I]; 'The sacred Indian Bean'; 'The Blue Egyptian Water Lily'. 77 text leaves \Kp\k1-17\Kp\k1 (including part-title and title) a-f1 \Kc\k-5\Kc\k1 A-C1 6\Kc\k-40\Kc\k1 D-F1 2A-2C1 41\Kc\k-45\Kc\k1. (Some very light browning and offsetting, principally affecting text.) Contemporary diced russia gilt [endpapers watermarked 1807-1808], boards with deep gilt borders of multiple fillets, greek-key rolls and other tools, enclosed by floral and palmette rolls, turn-ins gilt with palmette rolls, spine gilt in compartments, lettered in 2 and dated at the foot, other compartments decorated with symmetrical arrangements of floral and foliate tools, gilt edges (minor rubbing and scuffing, rebacked retaining original spine). Provenance: Charles, 1st Marquess of Northampton (1760-1828, with his bookplate as 9th Earl of Northampton, created Marquess of Northampton in 1812) -- Robert de Belder (his sale, Sotheby's London, 28 April 1987, lot 355).
FIRST EDITION OF THIS MAGNIFICENT WORK, WITH PLATES IN EARLY STATES. THE NORTHAMPTON-DE BELDER COPY IN A CONTEMPORARY RUSSIA BINDING. The work was first issued in parts, and the presence in this copy of watermarks dated 1797-1806, the early state of the plates, and the stab-holes visible at the edges of some leaves and plates, all indicate that this copy was bound up from the original parts, shortly after publication (which the style of the binding and watermarks on the endpapers appear to confirm). The twenty-eight celebrated plates of flowers are after paintings by Abraham Pether, Philip Reinagle, Sydenham Edwards, Peter Henderson and others, and, although a physician by training, Thornton himself provided the painting for the 'Roses', a particularly sumptuous plate. Ward, Earlom and Dunkarton executed the mezzotint engraving, while the aquatinting of the plates was done by Stadler and Sutherland. Although the expense incurred in the production of the work caused his ruin, Thornton created 'the most strikingly beautiful set of flower plates ever to be printed in England, [and] one of the loveliest books in the world' (Alan Thomas, Great Books and Book Collectors, p.144). However, its publication history was complex, leading Buchanan to state that 'no two copies of this book are alike', and 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 by 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. For a set of Thornton's The Philosophy of Botany in a near-uniform binding see the following lot. Cleveland Collections 722; Dunthorne 301; Great Flower Books p.143; Nissen BBI 1955; Stafleu and Cowan 14283.