THORNTON, Robert John, publisher.


The Superb Lily.

London, 1799-[1807].


First state. Issue A.

Robert John Thornton (?1786-1837) was a prolific medical author and became a Doctor of Medicine at St Andrews University and licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. However, he is best remembered for his great botanical publication The Temple of Flora, which formed a part of the larger work New Illustration of the sexual system 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. For these remarkable illustrations, he engaged the services of the leading artists and engravers of his day: Sir William Beechey, James Opie, Henry Raeburn, John Russell, Philip Reinagle and others as painters; Francesco Bartolozzi, Richard Earlom and John Landseer. Most of the images were painted by Peter Charles Henderson and Philip Reinagle.

These botanical illustrations are unique as they were the first flower prints with landscape backgrounds, depicting the natural habitat of the plant. The life-size flowers stand out dramatically and the whole effect is startlingly modern. Thornton’s announced intention was to make this work the most magnificent tribute ever paid to the famous Swedish botanist Linnaeus by illustrating his Sexual System with the finest possible prints. All these were engraved on a larger scale than anything which had hitherto appeared and then were printed in colour, an expensive and uncommon method in England at this time. A brilliant effect.


Aquatint and mezzotint, printed in colour and finished by hand, heightened with gum arabic, from The Temple of Flora. Framed and glazed, overall dimensions: 52 x 64 cm. (20 1/2 x 25 1/4 in).


Nissen Blunt, p236-242; Dunthorne, Alan Thomas, Great Books and Book Collectors, page 144.


Stock ID: 95111