Dr. Robert John Thornton
Folio Botanical Prints from The Temple of Flora

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Dr. Robert John Thornton (1768?-1837) (editor)
Dr. Robert John Thornton, Peter Charles Henderson (d. 1829), Philip Reinagle (1749-1833), Abraham Pether (1756-1812), Sydenham Edwards (after)
W. Ward, Elmes, Richard Earlom (1743-1822), James Caldwall (1739-1819), Thomas Sutherland (1785-1838), Medland, Dunkarton, Joseph Constantine Stadler (act. 1780-1812), Warner, Hopwood, Landseer, Burke & Lewis, et al. (engravers)
Botanical Prints
from The Temple of Flora; or Garden of Nature
T. Bensley for Dr. Robert John Thornton, London: 1799-1807
Hand-colored engravings and etchings with stipple, mezzotint or aquatint, some partially printed in colors, some heightened with gum arabic
20.5 x 15.75 inches, platemark, average approximate
$1,800 each and up

A selection of folio botanical prints from Dr. Robert Thornton’s The Temple of Flora. This set departed from previous botanical works in illustrating the plants to appear oversized relative the backgrounds, giving them an overall stately, dramatic, or even surreal appearance, and making them decidedly ahead of their time. Each illustration also had poetic narrative underpinnings, reflecting the aesthetics of English Romanticism. For example, describing the Dragon Arum print, Thornton stated that “[t]he clouds are disturbed, and every thing looks wild and somber." Lyric poems from a variety of authors were also included throughout the text alongside the straightforward botanical descriptions. The prints of Temple of Flora are now considered the greatest achievement ever in British botanical art. The plants included range from European garden flowers such as tulips, carnations and auriculas, to exotic tropical species recently introduced to the West.

Robert John Thornton began his career as a doctor. In 1797, he opened a successful practice in London. Meanwhile, he had become deeply interested in botany under the influence of Thomas Martyn’s lectures and the writings of Linnaeus. In 1797, he also began advertising for subscribers to his planned natural history publishing venture, which eventually became known as The Temple of Flora, comprised of 30 folio botanical plates (generally issued with just 28), as well as two classical allegorical plates. It was originally published as the third section of an extensive and ambitious botanical publication titled New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus.

Thornton retained some of the best artists of the day to compose the various images, as well as the best engravers to translate their work into print. Most of the images were painted by Peter Charles Henderson and Philip Reinagle, with two by Abraham Pether, who also rendered the moonlight in Reinagle’s Night-blowing Cereus, one of the best-known images from the set. The remaining two plates were painted by Sydenham Edwards and Thornton himself, who created the famous plate of Roses. The engravers were a similarly distinguished group, including Richard Earlom, James Caldwall, Thomas Sutherland, and Joseph Constantine Stadler. Some of the plates are executed in one engraved or etched medium, some in a combination of two or more, including stipple engraving, aquatint, and mezzotint. They were printed in basic colors and then enhanced with hand coloring.

In 1812, Thornton had The Temple of Flora set re-engraved on a small scale for a quarto edition, with some of the compositions slightly altered. Some examples from the smaller formatted edition may have been given as prizes during the Royal Botanic Lottery under the patronage of the Prince Regent. Thornton organized the lottery when faced with bankruptcy after sales of the folio publication failed to recoup his investment, having spared no expense in its production. The lottery apparently failed to salvage his finances, and Thornton died with little money. The whereabouts of the original paintings, also included in the lottery are mostly unknown. Nevertheless, The Temple of Flora remains admired as the greatest illustrated botanical set ever published in Britain for its outstanding aesthetic and imaginative qualities.

Condition: Each generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Specific condition reports are shown above with the enlarged image of the print.

References:

Blunt, Wilfred, rev. by Stearn, William T. The Art of Botanical Illustration. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors Club, 1994. pp. 236-242.

Dunthorne, Gordon. Flower and Fruit Prints of the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. Their History, Makers and Uses, with a Catalogue Raisonne of the Works in Which They are Found. Washington, D.C.: Published by the Author, 1938.

Grigson, Geoffrey and Handasyde Buchanan. Thornton’s Temple of Flora. London: 1951.

King, Ronald, The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton, London, Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1981.

Sitwell, Sacheverell. Great Flower Books, 1700-1900. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. pp. 77, 127.

Stafleu, Frans A. and Richard S.Cowan. Taxonomic Literature. Utrecht: 1967. 2nd ed., Utrecht: 1976-1988. TL2 8319, Tl2 14.283.

Thomas, Alan G. Great Books and Book Collectors. Littlehampton Book Services, 1975. p.144.

Thornton, Robert John and Mrs. Robert W. Ballantine. New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus: and the Temple of Flora, or Garden of Nature. London: 1807. Online at Missouri Botanical Garden: http://www.illustratedgarden.org/mobot/rarebooks/library.asp?relation=QK91C7721807 (15 January 2013).

inv_item shorttitle internalcode artist engraver title date medium watermark dunthorne image platemark overall price description king condition fullimage tn
1 Carnations PFF-2/Shea/0907 Carnations & Auriculas + ~HFFea/GDB/2009 Peter Charles Henderson (d. 1829) James Caldwall (1739-1819) A Group of Carnations April 2, 1803 Color-printed aquatint, stipple and line engraving, finished by hand Third state (sky entirely removed) 18.25 x 14.25 inches 20.5 x 15.75 inches 21.5 x 16.75 inches 4800 Six variegated carnations in full bloom and one bud, with a river landscape and neoclassical building in the background. "Carnations are cultivated forms of Dianthus caryophyllus. Many varieties have been bred such as those shown in this picture, which was painted by Peter Henderson. These belong to what are called 'florist's flowers,' that is, varieties conforming to certain recognized standards. Those with broad stripes of one colour were classed as 'Flakes': the Flakes in this group were named by Thornton 'Palmers's Dutchess of Dorset' and 'Palmer's Defiance'. Those with stripes of two or three colours were known as 'Bizarres': Thornton called the Bizarres in this group 'Caustin's British Monarch' and 'Midwinter's Dutchess of Wurtemburg.' Those with toothed and coloured edges to the petals were 'Piquettes,' in this case 'Davey's Defiance' and 'Princess of Wales.'" (Ronald King. The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p. 60). Generally very good with the usual overall toning and wear. Professionally cleaned leaving very faint line from former matting. Minor abrasions to margins from former matting, unobtrusive and can be rematted out. Two small pale foxing spots, left side above mountains, unobtrusive. Platemarks all present and margins ample. Publication line beneath title a little faint. carnations.jpg carnations-2.jpg
2 Auriculas PFF-2/Shea/0907 HFFea/GDB/2009 Philip Reinagle (1749-1833) Thomas Sutherland (1785-1838) A Group of Auriculas May 1, 1807 Color-printed aquatint, finished by hand First state [probably] (subtle gradations on mountains, fir trees stand out faintly) 18.5 x 15 inches 20.25 x 16.75 inches 21.75 x 17.25 inches 3200 Two varieties of blue auriculas, identified beneath image as Cockup's Eclipse and Privateer, in a mountain landscape. "Thornton was not content with the original Plate (VIII) showing four auricula varieties and had a second plate made showing only two of the varieties, 'Cockup's Eclipse' and 'Grimes's Privateer.' Auriculas had become very popular in Europe, particularly France, and this Continental enthusiasm was matched in the north of England, especially in Lancashire and Yorkshire where, by the end of the eighteenth century, when Thornton produced his pictures, something like fifty auricula shows were being held each year. Wealthy people took up the craze and made it fashionable. It may be no more than a coincidence, but it seems possible that Thornton's pictures, widely known as they became in London from exhibition, had an influence on or even stimulated this development as during the Regency, from 1811 to 1820, immediately following their issue, the pot-grown auricula became the pet plant of polite society. The auricula theatres built in the houses of the rich were very sophisticated. Black velvet was draped over the shelves or tiers to provide a background, while ornate mirrors were placed at the back of the sides and staging to reflect the beauty of the flowers." (Ronald King. The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p. 64.) Generally very good with the usual overall toning and wear. Professionally cleaned leaving very faint line from former matting. Minor abrasions to margins from former matting, unobtrusive and can be rematted out. Plate mark present left and bottom, partially on right; absent on top. Margins nonetheless ample. Publication line beneath title a little faint. auriculas.jpg auriculas-2.jpg
3 Queen Flower NEF/CHR/1204 EF/GDB Philip Reinagle (1749-1833) (after) None listed The Queen Flower January 1, 1812 Color printed aquatint with line engraving and hand finishing First and only state 17.75 x 13.5 inches 20.5 x 15.75 inches (approximate) 20.75 x 17.75 inches 2400 A bird of paradise plant in full bloom fills the frame of the composition, with a plain and mountain in the background. "This striking and distinctive plant, called by Thornton the 'Queen' in this plate, and later the 'Queen Flower,' but more usually known as the 'Bird of Paradise Flower' from a fanciful resemblance to that bird, is a native of South Africa, and one the most colourful plants of the showy flora of that country. It was introduced by Sir Joseph Banks, friend of the King, and de facto Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, with some panache in the 1780s and named Strelitzia reginae in honour of Charlotte, George III's Queen, who was a Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. It was almost certainly sent to Banks by Francis Masson, the first official Kew plant collector, who spent thee years in South Africa in the mid-1770s. The Strelitzia attracted great attention in this country when it first appeared because of its colourful and bizarrely-shaped blooms, quite unlike anything else known at that time, and even today those who see it in flower for the first time are intrigued by it." (Ronald King. The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p. 68.) Generally very good with the usual overall toning and wear. Professionally cleaned leaving very faint line from former matting. Horizontal crease, from center fold, as originally bound in a folio. Manuscript Latin plant name, lower left, in hand contemporary to binding of print, faded. Plate mark faint left, otherwise faint or absent on other sides. Margins nonetheless ample except publication line beneath title very close to bottom edge. Provenance: Christies, New York, Estate of Doris Duke. queenflower.jpg queenflower-2.jpg
4 Stapelia HFF/Freeman/04 EF/GDB Peter Charles Henderson (d. 1829) Joseph Constantine Stadler (act. 1780-1812) The Maggot-bearing Stapelia [Stapelia Hirsuta] July 1, 1801 Color printed aquatint with stipple and line engraving, and hand finishing Second state (foreground broken up with horizontal light patches, mountain appears rocky, clouds in sky removed) 17.75 x 14 inches 20.5 x 15.75 inches 22 x 17.5 inches 1800 Stapelia Hirsuta, a South African plant known for a putrid odor that attracts flies to assist in pollination, is shown in a rocky river landscape with conifers and distant mountains. The blossom has attracted a fly and a green snake, whose head pokes out from beneath the right side of the plant. "(Thornton describes) the flower as having 'something of an animal appearance' and 'so strong a scent, resembling carrion, that blowflies in abundance hover around it, and mistaking the corolla for flesh, deposit there their eggs....Peter Henderson again did his best to capture the feeling attaching to the plant in his picture, portraying its unlovely habits and bizarre appearance and adding...the sly green head of a snake gliding noiselessly beneath the plant, with red forked tongue protruding and narrow, sinister, malevolent eye." (Ronald King. The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p. 92.) Generally very good with the usual overall toning and wear. Professionally cleaned leaving very faint line from former matting. Abrasion lower center in brown ground area, professionally restored, unobtrusive. Platemarks all present and margins ample. stapelia.jpg stapelia-2.jpg
5 Renealmia CAIF-7+ Sfran ship + GDB/Hindman/022411 Peter Charles Henderson (d. 1829) James Caldwall (1739-1819) Nodding Renealmia [Renealmia Nutans] November 1, 1801 Color printed aquatint with stipple and line engraving, and hand finishing Watermark: J. Whatman 1810 Second state (outline of mountains more distinct, sky has more modeling lower left, coarse grained aquatint added in middle distance, paper watermarked "J. Whatman 1810.") 18.25 x 14 inches 20.25 x 15.5 inches 23 x 18.5 inches 4500 A few droplets of what Thornton refers to in his text as the "honey" produced by the plant are shown falling midair. This plant is now called Alpinia zerumbet, shell ginger or shellflower. "This graceful plant [...] is a native of China and Japan and was introduced to the West about 1792 by Sir Joseph Banks [...] Thornton was impressed with the way its inflorescence opened in stages, each of which had a charm of its own: he described it as follows: In the first stage the buds are enveloped within a leafy sheath, in the centre, supporting at the top a small leaf. The inside is a beautiful crimson. The flower then shoots out a real spatha consisting of two leaves of light green, elegantly running into crimson. These droop, when the buds all appear regularly disposed like tiles of a house, of a beautiful white, tipped with crimson. They then appear glossy, as if formed of a most perfect wax. From an absolute depending position, the flower-stalk gradually becomes nodding, the protecting leaf in the centre of the plant withers and from the bottom upwards the flowers take a contrary direction, the buds each turning back as they open, displaying a lovely assemblage of the most captivating flowers" (Ronald King, The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p.72). Generally very good with the usual overall light wear. Paper uniformly with light cream tone. Large margins well beyond full plate marks. renealmia.jpg renealmia-2.jpg
6 Cyclamen CAIF-7+ Sfran ship + GDB/Hindman/022411 Abraham Pether (1756-1812) Elmes The Persian Cyclamen 1804 Color printed aquatint with stipple and line engraving, and hand finishing Watermark: J. Whatman 1810 Third state (additional modeling and aquatint added to the middle distance and the leaves of the cyclamen, but most noticeably to the sky; stipple on the blossoms with less modeling compared to earlier states; paper watermarked "J. Whatman 1810.") 17 x 13.5 inches 19.75 x 16 inches 22.75 x 18.5 inches 3200 The white flowers and variegated leaves of the Persian Cyclamen are depicted in a rocky Mediterranean landscape with mountains and a large building with a tower in the distance. "The Persian Cyclamen [Cyclamen persicum Miller], parent of the florist's cyclamen [...] is a native of the countries and islands at the eastern end of the Mediterranean but not of Persia itself. It is the largest flowered of an attractive genus of small plants much grown in modern times by connoisseurs. The Persian Cyclamen was not the first of its kind to become known in western Europe. Cyclamen europeaum, the 'Bleeding Nun', as it was called, was thought to be dangerous to pregnant women: any unfortunate lady in this condition who stepped over it might immediately miscarry. John Gerrard, the Elizabethan herbalist, believed this implicitly and describes how he fenced his plants around with sticks with others laid across them 'lest any woman should, by lamentable experiment, find my words to be true, by stepping over the same.' When the baby was nearing full term, and delivery was to be encouraged, wearing of the disc-like tuber, 'hanged about' the expectant mothers, had a salutary effect, and Gerrard told his wife to use it when attending confinements. Its use by midwifes dates back to the days of the Greeks." (Ronald King, The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p.52). Generally very good with the usual overall light wear. Paper uniformly with light cream tone. Large margins well beyond full plate marks. cyclamen.jpg cyclamen-2.jpg
7 Rhododendron CAIF-7+ Sfran ship + GDB/Hindman/022411 Peter Charles Henderson (d. 1829) James Caldwall (1739-1819) The Pontic Rhododendron December 1, 1802 Color printed aquatint with stipple and line engraving, and hand finishing Watermark: J. Whatman 1810 One state only (does not vary much in different prints except in the coloring of the flowers, which can be magenta, deep purple, plum or lilac) 18.25 x 14 inches 20.75 x 15.75 inches 23 x 18.25 inches 4200 Rhododendron blossoms and buds are silhouetted against a cloudy sky, along with a butterfly. "The Pontic Rhododendron, native of south-west Asia and Spain, first appears in history in the pages of Xenophon, the Greek historian, who tells the story of a time when his army of 'Immortals', as they were called, on their long retreat through Persia, made themselves very ill with honey culled by bees from the flower of this plant [...] The soft and delicate colouring of its mauve flowers, translucent in the sunshine amid its glossy green leaves, are well worth a second look and were it rare and difficult to grow, it would be a plant for connoisseurs to prize." (Ronald King. The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p. 98.) Generally very good with the usual overall light wear. Paper uniformly with light cream tone. Large margins well beyond full plate marks. rhodo.jpg rhodo-2.jpg
8 Superb Lily CAIF-7+ Sfran ship + GDB/Hindman/022411 Philip Reinagle (1749-1833) (after) Richard Earlom (1743-1822) The Superby Lily June 1, 1799 Color printed mezzotint with added aquatint and hand finishing Watermark: H. Smith 1810 Fourth state (sky altered from previous states, paper watermarked "H. Smith 1810.") 17.5 x 14 inches 19 x 14 inches 23 x 18.25 inches 4400 The graceful orange flowers of the lily glow against a steep, shadowed mountain, with rocky cliffs in the distance. Generally very good with the usual overall light wear. Paper uniformly with light cream tone. Large margins well beyond full plate marks. superblily.jpg superblily-2.jpg
9 Tulips CAIF-7+ Sfran ship + GDB/Hindman/022411 Philip Reinagle (1749-1833) (after) Richard Earlom (1743-1822) Tulips May 1, 1798 Mezzotint printed in blue and brown with hand finishing Watermark: H. Smith 1810 Second state (fields covered with bushes and right foreground reworked) 17.25 x 13.75 inches 18.75 x 14 inches 23 x 18.5 inches 0 Seven tulips in a landscape, a windmill and church spire in the distance. Thornton's text says that the most prominent of the group is named for Louis XVI. Below are a General Washington tulip, La Majestieuse, the Carnation Tulip, and two new varieties named by Thornton himself, the Duchess of Devonshire and the Earl Spencer. Generally very good with the usual overall light wear. Paper uniformly with light cream tone. Large margins well beyond full plate marks. tulips.jpg tulips-2.jpg
10 Passion Flower CAIF-7+ Sfran ship + GDB/Hindman/022411 Peter Charles Henderson (d. 1829) Warner The Winged Passion-Flower June 1, 1802 Color printed aquatint with stipple and line engraving, and hand finishing Watermark: H. Smith 1810 Third state (shadows, foliage and background reworked; mottled work added on large leaf on right; watermark "H. Smith 1810.") 17.75 x 14.25 inches 22.5 x 18.25 inches 22.75 x 18.25 inches 3900 A winged passion flower vine is wrapped around a fluted column, dominating the foreground. In the narrow strips of background on either side of the column, lush foliage and a portion of a classical dome are glimpsed. "...the Winged Passion Flower [Passiflora alata L.], brought to Europe from Peru about thirty years before this plate was made, is highly coloured and very sweet-scented...It derives its common name from the thin membrane or 'wing' at the angles of its square stems [...] It flowers somewhat earlier than the Blue Passion Flower, being in bloom from April to August. The colours of the flower being much brighter than those of the Blue Passion Flower it is not necessary, as in the latter, to try to provide a contrasting dark background, and in this case the pillar up which the plant climbs and the general scenery is lighter, giving the whole plate a brighter and more colourful appearance." (Ronald King, The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p. 82.) Generally very good with the usual overall light wear. Paper uniformly with light cream tone. Large margins well beyond full plate marks. passionflower.jpg passionflower-2.jpg
11 Snowdrop NF 102713 Bourgeault Abraham Pether (1756-1812) William Ward (1766-1826) The Snowdrop September 1804 Hand-colored mezzotint Watermark: E&P 1802 First state (pond lower right corner is open). 17.5 x 13.5 inches 18.75 x 13.5 inches 22.25 x 17.25 inches 2800 The bell-shaped white flowers of the snowdrop, an early spring flower, are shown in the foreground of a wintry heath, covered with frost. The snow on the roof of a nearby cottage shows that the weather is still cold and wintry. The snowdrop is accompanied by crocuses, which are also early bloomers. "The snowdrop [Galanthus nivalis L.] has a special place in everyone's affections. Small, solitary and early, it exhibits the most extreme hardihood, often pushing its way up through the snow to flower the earliest of all. The second part of its common name, 'drop', compares it with an ear-drop, which it is thought to resemble. The yellow crocus [? Crocus flavus Weston ( C. aureus, C. maesiacus )], slightly later than the snowdrop, is the rue herald of springtime. John Gerard, the Elizabethan herbalist, said of it that it has 'floures of a most perfect shining yellow colour, seeming afar off to be a hot glowing cole of fire'. The purple crocus [? C. vernus Hill] follows, both yellow and purple species being the parents of many garden varieties." (Ronald King, The Temple of Flora by Robert Thornton. 1981, p. 52). Generally very good with the usual overall light wear. Paper uniformly with light cream tone. Large margins well beyond full plate marks. snowdrop.jpg snowdrop-2.jpg