The Jeffersonian style is the creation of our third President, Thomas Jefferson, statesman, political philosopher, author, historian, scientist, planter, an architect who composed verse, an American genius. The Jeffersonian encompasses elements gathered from all of history, selected with taste, composed in reason.
You will find in the Jeffersonian, Roman precedent, Palladian organization, French Bourbon elegance, American eloquence. In precedent:
of the Roman, the Doric, Ionic, Corinthian; Temple of Gaius and Lucius Caesar (the Maison Carrée);
of Palladio, Villa Almerico Capra (La Rotonda), Villa Badoer (La Badoera), Villa Cornaro;
of French Bourbon, Hôtel de Salm;
of pattern-books, Palladio’s The Four Books of Architecture, Gibb’s Book of Architecture;
the Virginia State Capitol Building, ascended from the Maison Carrée;
Monticello, ascended from the Hôtel de Salm.
Jefferson’s civic and domestic buildings are nobly restrained, free of Palladian immensities, free of British pomposities. Yet, the Jeffersonian is muscular, bold, beautiful, logical, characteristic of our young Republic. Jefferson adapted his style to civic, to governmental, to educational, and to domestic architecture: The Virginia State Capitol, The University of Virginia, Monticello, et cetera. Often, Jefferson would offer domestic advice to planners and architects (Jms. Madison, L’Enfant, Latrobe, et alia), and to friends on home planning & design; of how many homes Jefferson designed, we are uncertain, though the number might be 15, not including the many houses of the Academical Village, UVA.
The restrained, republican architecture of Jefferson is most often seen in his native Virginia, but is also found widely in Maryland and North Carolina. Remarkable and well-known examples of the Jeffersonian are Belle Mont, in Alabama; buildings of The University of Mary Washington; Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, Tennessee; Fiske Kimball’s remarkable Shack Mountain; and, of course, John Russell Pope’s Jefferson Memorial.
You might like to know: Thos. Jefferson’s design for the President’s House, “The White House”, included a dome; J.R. Pope knew this, so he placed a dome upon the White House; id est, he positioned and scaled the Jefferson Memorial so that from a vantage upon Meridian Hill Park, the White House appears to have a dome. God love John Russell Pope.
Of a Roman Order.
A central pediment; a portico or porch, often with a fanlight.
Low pitched, gabled or hipped roof.
A tripartite, “three-part” temple (central pediment and wings) on a raised foundation.
An entablature, sometimes articulated with triglyphs, sometimes in broad white bands.
The windows are crowned, often shuttered.
The skin is red brick, the columns are limestone or treated to resemble limestone.
Too, Jefferson had a practical fondness for octagons.
Of the Virginia State Capitol Building:
“…a favorable opportunity of introducing into the State and example of architecture in the classic style of antiquity.”
The Maison Carrée (Roman temple of Gaius and Julius Caesar; Nimes, France) is the protype of design.
When Secretary of State, Jefferson aided L’Enfant in planning the new federal city. He wrote to L’Enfant (Washington, D.C.’s civic planner):
“I should prefer the adoption of some one of the models of antiquity which have had the approbation of thousand of years; and for the President’s house, I should prefer the celebrated fronts of modern buildings, which have already received the approbation of all good judges. Such are the Gallerie du Louvre, and the Gardes meubles, and the two fronts of the Hotel de Salm.”
Of the UVA Academical Village:
“I consider the common plan followed in this country — of making one large and expansive building, as unfortunately erroneous. It is infinitely better to erect a small and separate loge for each separate professorship, with only a hall below for his class, and two chambers above for himself, joining these lodges by barracks for a certain portion of the students, opening into a covered way, to give dry communication between all the schools. The whole of these arranged around an open square of grass and trees would make it, what it should be in fact, an academic village.”
Near the ending of his life, at the completion and signing of his will (March 1826), Thomas Jefferson designed his gravestone (located in the family cemetery at Monticello) and dictated its text:
“Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of American Independence Of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia.”
Marcus “Vitruvius” Pollio’s De Architectura, antiquity’s lone, surviving architectural treatise (in ten books);
The Vitruvian Triad, a unified theory of architecture, rendered in translation as, “Well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity, and delight“;
Andrea Palladio’s Quattro Libri, was a guide, the inspiration for Jefferson’s architecture civic and domestic;
James Gibbs’ Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732), James Leoni’s The Architecture of A. Palladio (1715-1720), both books purchased while Thos. Jefferson was yet a student at William & Mary;
The Pantheon, Villa La Rotonda, Villa Cornaro, Chiswick House, et cetera.
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29 April 1962, President John F. Kennedy, when welcoming Nobel Prize winners to a dinner at The White House, is quoted:
“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
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Featured Image: Thomas Jefferson, the “Rotunda”, UVA; “Jefferson” statue by Moses Ezekiel, 1910. credit: M. Curtis