Monday, June 17, 2013

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) and American neoclassical architecture after the Palladian style

Thomas Jefferson’s residence, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia was an experimental, functional, and stylistic work in process. Monticello was started around 1769 and continued to be transformed and re-formed by Jefferson until about 1809. Jefferson designed Monticello with it’s outbuildings as a self-contained development functioning as a small village. The view above is the southwest elevation. The natural stone color of the columns have just recently been restored to the way they looked in Jefferson’s day. Photograph by versluis 2013.

Similarly, Jefferson designed the campus for the University of Virginia (1817–26) to be an academic village. The Rotunda that held the library (shown above) stands hierarchically at the center and is flanked by pavilions, which housed various academic departments as well as professors and students. Photograph by versluis 2013.

Regarding Jefferson’s Rotunda design the Library of Congress website titled “Thomas Jefferson: Creating A Virginia Republic” mentions that:

The Rotunda at the University of Virginia was carefully planned by Jefferson to represent the authority of nature and the power of reason. To Jefferson, the classical architecture of Palladio, the famous Italian architect of the sixteenth century, best represented these ideals. The Rotunda originally housed the library, which Jefferson considered the major source of enlightenment and wisdom.

A 1826 Engraving by Henry Schenck Tanner after a drawing by Benjamin Tanner depicting the “Village Design of University of Virginia” (The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, The Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia Library)

Jefferson designed the buildings to gather around the Rotunda, which for Jefferson was a symbol of the Temple of Knowledge. The college buildings form a perimeter on three sides around the Lawn, in which the open end provides accessibility to the campus as well as a common green space. It’s interesting that Jefferson’s design expresses visually his belief that all the academic offices and disciplines are connected to one another.

Plan of the University of Virginia from c.1826.

David Handlin explains Thomas Jefferson’s view of education in the new United States of America as:
…a fundamental precondition of responsible citizenship. In his scheme of schooling the university occupied the paramount position. Rather than serving an established religion, as did English universities and those already in existence in the United States, Jefferson’s university was to be based on the “illimitable freedom of the human mind.”(1)
The illustrations are courtesy of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
  1. Handlin, David P. American Architecture. 2nd ed. London And New York: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2004. 44-55. Print.

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