THORNTON, Robert John (circa 1768-1837). - Abraham PETHER (1731-1795)
The Persian Cyclamen
London: 1804. Hand-coloured and colour-printed aquatint, with stipple and line engraving by Elmes. Paper watermarked 1804. First state of three. Sheet size: 22 x 17 7/8 inches.
The most strikingly beautiful flower plates ever to be printed in England.
"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). Thornton's 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). Third state of three of this plate from the Temple of Flora. `In the first state the top the castle is indistinct and has no pinnacles on the towers, and this is the first feature to inspect. The hillside is pure aquatint; the shading behind the cyclamen flowers is lightly cross-hatched, while the tree trunk to the right has only a few lines on it. In the second state the castle is more prominent and five distinct sharp pinnacles have been added, while many extra etched lines are to be seen - notably behind the cyclamen flowers; on the tree trunk; and under the cyclamen leaves on the left, which themselves stand out more sharply. The principal change in the third state is the addition of the aquatint to the sky on the left, so that only a streak of light remains above the mountains, while in the earlier states the light reached the top corner. The leaves of the cyclamen [now have].. light and dark patches, the coarse-grained aquatint has been added to the middle distance. Much additional aquatinting has been applied to other parts of the plate. The most easily-noticed difference, however, are the changes in the castle between states one and two, and in the sky between states two three." (Handasyde Buchanan. Thornton's Temple of Flora, 1951, p.15).