Robert John Thornton

English Hand-Colored Roses Engraving

Late 18th Century

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Roses aquatint and mezzotint, printed in color, finished by hand, and heightened with gum arabic from The Temple of Flora.

  • Robert John Thornton (English, 1768–1837).
  • Framed and glazed.
  • This rare and celebrated plate of The Roses is the only one by Thornton by himself.

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 this 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 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 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.


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

Condition Report

Star iconVery Good
Like New

Not examined out of frame.

Wear consistent with age and use.


Height: 25.25 inches / 64.14 cm
Width: 20.5 inches / 52.07 cm


Paint, Wood, Glass



Decorative Style

Traditional Style

Country of Origin


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