Amia Albutt

THORNTON, R.J. Botanical Extracts (London, 1810)

The Seed the Emblem of the Resurrection

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This picture titled ‘The Seed the Emblem of the Resurrection’ located on page 252-253 in Robert Thornton’s book Botanical Extracts, depicts several themes. In the background of the picture is the British countryside complete with rolling hills stretching far back to the horizon, cattle grazing in the field, woods and thickets along with small villages dotted about the scenery. At the forefront of this picture is a large impressive Oak tree dominating the majority of the picture with its branches spanning the page width and reaching to the top of the page. The work that went into the picture was because of Robert Thornton, who produced the book and was also the artistic director. He made it his aim to ensure that the scenery back drop was an accurate representation of the plant or trees natural surroundings.1

Due to the Oak tree having leaves and foliage around its base it can be assumed that the picture was drawn to represent the spring or summer season. This is emphasised further with the small acorn located at the oak trees base placing this picture around spring time. The acorns appearance is meant to substantiate the picture purpose of demonstrating ‘The seed the emblem of the Resurrection’.

Though in the book this picture is available in black and white there is also a painter Thornton attributed to this work by the name of Reinagle, who painted the original version of this image.2 Philip Reinagle was a highly accomplished artist who specialised in animal and landscape paintings he had much success and exhibits of his work around Europe.3 The engraver or sculptor as Thornton labels them is Thomas Sutherland, another highly accomplished artist/engraver who was in much demand. Thornton’s use of expert craftsman and artists is thought to be a response to a wealth of skilfully illustrated botanical books being created in Europe.4

The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius In 1769

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This double page image titled ‘The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius In 1769’ located on pages 112-113 in Botanical Extracts by Dr Robert Thornton, is meant to represent the destructive volcanic eruption. The backdrop scenery depicts an almost serene image of mountains, Naples and it bay with ships sailing on the water and vast expanse of sky with everything below bathed in the light of the moon. Then in stark contrast is the volcano in the centre of the two page spread, a large billowing ash cloud protruding from its mouth reaches the top of the page. Lava flow is illustrated running down the side of the volcano soon to reach a town located at its base. At the very bottom of the picture several figures are present watching the eruption from across the water.

The image has numbered points to display the location of key features though in the design the corresponding numbers in the picture are lost. It was Thornton’s ambition and effort to make the images in his book as accurate5 as possible and so he relied on the account of those who experienced the eruption to direct the creation of this image. He used the eye witness and written account of Father Antonio de Petrizzi whose convent was located at Torre del Greco displayed in the picture and was destroyed by the eruption. He used this work as a basis for the image as well as the account by Dr Emanuel Scotti who was a Doctor of Philosophy at Naples University.6

The image illustrated in the book is a black and white print however Thornton credits Marchese Galiani as the painter, which implies that the original version was a colour painting. There are examples of other images also depicting Mount Vesuvius7 which suggest that the artist was an authority on this subject. Little is known of the Galiani as an artist however it is suggested that he is Marchese Ferdinando Galiani8 who is known as a political economist who in 1769 located to Naples to work in the government.9 He is not known as an artist but his placement close to the subject makes him a possible candidate as a painter.

The Eruption of Mount Aetna in 1669

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This image is a portrait double page spread illustrating the ‘Eruption of Mount Aetna in 1669’ located on pages 116-117 in Botanical Extracts by Dr Robert Thornton. It is a picture that is displaying another example of a volcanic eruption. Throughout his work Thornton has made it his aim to display his pictures in their natural scenery.10 In this image the scenery is simple in its style, at the forefront of the picture is Mount Aetna erupting, spewing clouds of ash into the sky, there is also a spray of lava shooting upwards with rocks and ash mixed in, clearly illustrating the violent nature of the eruption. There is lava, streaming down the sides of the volcano heading toward a wooded area near its base. The moon is the light source for this image and appears to be either very low in the sky or a reflection on water. At the base of the image is some land where figures watch the eruption, also there is a small rowing boat making its way across the water.

This image is illustrated in the book as black and white picture; however Thornton attributes this work to a painter by the name of Romagni. Further research into the original version yielded no results and it may be that original colour painting is now lost. Another perplexing problem was that additional research into this new artist who has not appeared in Thornton’s works before also had no results. There are no other examples of this artists work to be found in online catalogues of art galleries and no person fitting his name and profession seems to be recorded.11 This could lead to the assumption of two ideas, the first of which is that the artist was little known in his time and his work was not successful in art galleries and exhibit resulting in no recorded for the modern day. The second idea is that the artist was working under an alias possibly so his work was not compared to previous painting or simply that he did not want his name attributed to the work. It is likely that the first idea is incorrect as Thornton took great pride in his work and used only expert painters and craftsman to illustrate his book, a feat that eventually made him penniless.

  1. National Museums and Galleries of Wales. 2003. Robert John Thornton in Catalogue of Botanical Prints and Drawings: At the National Museums & Galleries of Wales.

  2. The Seed the Emblem of the Resurrection in Robert Thornton Botanical Extracts 1810. Panteek available at http://www.panteek.com/Thornton/pages/tho1-111.htm [Accessed on 05/05/2013]

  3. Parris, L. 1997 Philip Reinagle Tate Available at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/philip-reinagle-2604 [Accessed on 05/05/2013]

  4. National Museums and Galleries of Wales. 2003. Robert John Thornton in Catalogue of Botanical Prints and Drawings: At the National Museums & Galleries of Wales.

  5. National Museums and Galleries of Wales. 2003. Robert John Thornton in Catalogue of Botanical Prints and Drawings: At the National Museums & Galleries of Wales.

  6. Burnet, T 1816 The Sacred Theory of the Earth:  In which are Set Forth the Wisdom of God Displayed in the Works of the Creation, Salvation, and Consummation of All Things Kinnersley,T: Available at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=1hGgAAAAMAAJ&dq=dr+emanuel+scotti+mt+vesuvius&source=gbs_navlinks_s [Accessed on 06/05/2013]

  7. Cratere col nuovo Monticello by Marchese Galiani Prints and Photography Online Catalogue (PPOC) from Library of Congress Available at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96505767/ [Accessed on 06/05/2013]

  8. RHS Lindley Library 2008 Thornton: New Illustration, Botanical Extracts, Temple of Flora: Comparison of Plates Available at www.lindleylibrary.org.uk/docs/Thornton_comparison_of_plates.pdf [Accessed on 06/05/2013]

  9. Toscano, P, R. 1968 Galiani, Ferdinando in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Available at http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Ferdinando_Galiani.aspx [Accessed on 06/05/2013]

  10. 10.  National Museums and Galleries of Wales. 2003. Robert John Thornton in Catalogue of Botanical Prints and Drawings: At the National Museums & Galleries of Wales.

  11. 11.  RHS Lindley Library 2008 Thornton: New Illustration, Botanical Extracts, Temple of Flora: Comparison of Plates Available at www.lindleylibrary.org.uk/docs/Thornton_comparison_of_plates.pdf [Accessed on 06/05/2013]

Amia Albutt