A Group of Carnations


Product No. thornton-folio001

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Temple of Flora

“Carnations are cultivated forms of Dianthus caryophyllus, a flower grown in gardens since the time of the Emperor Augustus, during whose reign, according to Pliny, it was introduced to Rome from Spain. Found on castle ruins both in France and England, it has been suggested that it made its way to England from France in Norman times on stone imported for building castles. It was popular in medieval times both for its colour and its clove scent, and from the latter was known as the `clove-gillyflower’. 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)

This dramatic folio botanical engraving is from Dr. Robert John Thornton’s work New Illustration of the Sexual System of…Linnaeus. Comprehending…The Temple of Flora. The work was published in London by between 1787 and 1810. Each engraving was made using stipple, mezzotint, and aquatint processes and feature hand-coloring heightened with gum Arabic.

Thornton’s engravings featured an uncommon composition in which the subject was seen oversized in relation to the background giving the plates a theatrical presence. Temple of Flora is often considered the greatest achievement in British botanical art. Thornton employed some of the foremost artists to create the plates included Peter Charles Henderson, Philip Reinagle, Abraham Pether, and Sydenham Edwards. Richard Earlom, James Caldwall, Thomas Sutherland, and Joseph Constantine Stadler were the engravers for Temple of Flora.

Thornton’s The Temple of Flora is the greatest English colour-plate flower book. “…[Thornton] inherited a competent fortune and trained as a doctor. He appears to have had considerable success in practice and was appointed both physician to the Marylebone Dispensary and lecturer in medical botany at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s hospitals. But quite early in his career he embarked on his…great work. What Redouté produced under the patronage of L’Héritier, Marie Antoinette, the Empress Josephine, Charles X, and the Duchesse de Berry, Thornton set out to do alone…Numerous important artists were engaged…twenty-eight paintings of flowers commissioned from Abraham Pether, known as `Moonlight Pether,’ Philip Reinagle, …Sydenham Edwards, and Peter Henderson…The result…involved Thornton in desperate financial straits…In an attempt to extricate himself he organized the Royal Botanic Lottery, under the patronage of the Prince Regent…It is easy to raise one’s eyebrows at Thornton’s unworldly and injudicious approach to publishing…But he produced…one of the loveliest books in the world.” (Alan Thomas, Great Books and Book Collecting, pp.142-144)

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