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 two volumes, broadsheets (23 x 17 4/8 inches).
Part I: engraved half-title "A British Trophy ..."; engraved portrait of Thornton by F. Bartolozzi after Russell, and additional portraits of Millington, Grew, Ray, Vaillant, Bonnet, Hales, and Townsend; engraved plate "The Universal Power of Love"; engraved title-page "The Prize dissertation or the Sexes of Plates by Carolus von Linnaeus... 1759"; 3 engraved tables; and 22 fine engraved plates of flowers showing their separate components according to Linnaeus.
Part II: mezzotint portrait of Linnaeus in Lapland dress by Dunkarton after Hoffman, engraved portrait of Linnaeus and further portraits of Pitton, Tournefort, de Jussieu, Larmarck, Rousseau, Hill, Bute, Martyn, Milne, Withering, Curtis, Smith, Lambert, Rutherford, Woodville, Shaw, and Erasmus Darwin; engraved half-title and title-page; 2 engraved tables; 66 engraved plates of flowers showing their separate components according to Linnaean classification.
Part III: engraved title-page on 2 sheets; engraved table of contents; engraved dedication on 2 sheets; engraved part-title; 3 engraved plates: "Flora Dispensing her Favours on Earth" (aquatint and stipple engraved, hand-colored), and "Aesculapius, Flora, Ceres and Cupid ..." and "Cupid Inspiring the Plants with Love" (color-printed stipple-engravings finished by hand); 28 mezzotint and/or aquatint engraved plates printed in colors and/or colored by hand, comprising:
"The Snowdrop" [Dunthorne state I];
"The Persian Cyclamen" [III];
"A Group of Carnations" [II];
"A Group of Auriculas" [two only, II];
"The Aloe" [I];
"The Nodding Renealmia" [I];
"The Night Blowing Cereus" [Plate A, State II];
"The Oblique-Leaved Begonia" [III];
"Large Flowering Sensitive Plant" [III];
"The Blue Passion Flower" [III];
"The Winged Passion Flower" [III];
"The Quadrangular Passion Flower" [II];
"The White Lily" [III];
'The Superb Lily' [B, III];
"The Dragon Arum" [IV];
"The Maggot-Bearing Stapelia" [II];
"American Bog Plants" [II];
"The Pontic Rhododendron";
"The American Cowslip" [I];
"The Narrow Leaved Kalmia";
"The China Limodoron";
"The Indian Reed" [II];
"The Sacred Egyptian Bean";
"The Blue Egyptian Water Lily" (endleaves and preliminaries creased, some marginal spotting). Contemporary maroon morocco gilt (hinges very weak).
First edition. Only one of the justly celebrated plates of flowers ("The Roses") was by Thornton, the others are after paintings by Abraham Pether, Philip Reinagle, Sydenham Edwards, Peter Henderson and others, although he selected the subjects of the plates, their symbolism and dramatic landscapes.
A doctor by training, a substantial inheritance allowed Thornton to achieve his dream of "an immense work in many volumes which in scope, illustration, paper and typography would surpass anything in any other European country" (Grigson). However the enterprise brought about his financial ruin and in spite of several lotteries designed to raise funds Thornton was forced to return to medical practice in order to support himself.
"At the heart of the 'New Illustration' was Thornton's scheme to produce a specifically British botanical publication of a magnificence to surpass all previous examples. Teams of master engravers and colourists, including Francesco Bartolozzi, Richard Earlom, and John Landseer, used the full range of modern printing techniques to produce coloured illustrations after paintings by such prominent artists as Sir William Beechey, James Opie, Henry Raeburn, John Russell, Abraham Pether, and his two favoured illustrators, Peter Henderson and Philip Reinagle. The illustrations were not restricted to the 'choicest flowers' in the world, but included portraits of eminent botanists-including the famous portrait of Linnaeus in Lapp (Sami) dress-elaborate allegories, such as 'Cupid Inspiring the Plants to Love', and a bust of Linnaeus being honoured by Aesculapius, Flora, Ceres, and Cupid. The text, which includes a translation of Linnaeus's 'Prize dissertation' on the sexuality of plants (1759), is similarly not bound to accounts and texts of scientific botany, but deals with a wide range of religious, political, spiritual, social, and emotional issues, not only in prose but also through extensive use of poems by modern and ancient authors. It is easy to regard much of this material as irrelevant to the publication's botanical aims, but this is to miss the universal human and religious purposes of botanical learning in Thornton's system of thought" (Martin Kemp for DNB). Cleveland Collections 722; Dunthorne 301; Grigson in Grigson & H. Buchanan "Thornton's Temple of Flora London": 1951, p.2): Nissen BBI 1955; Sitwell "Great Flower Books" p.143; Stafleu and Cowan 14283; Thomas, "Great Books and Book Collectors", p.144).