Thomas Jefferson once said that "Architecture is my delight, and putting up and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements." He spent much of his life "putting up and pulling down," most notably during the forty-year construction of the Monticello. Influenced by his readings of ancient and modern architectural writings, Jefferson gleaned the best from both his readings and from his observations in Europe, creating his own personal style of architecture, a mix of Neoclassicism’s Roman temples, and Palladian villa. Partly, because of Jefferson’s influence, our federal buildings set an American precedent for the neoclassical style. Jefferson’s admiration for neoclassical style went so far as to design candlesticks based on the Corinthian order.
The Monticello is a good example or Neoclassicism. It incorporates this style into almost every room of the house. The exterior was made simple and unified by having one story of the Doric order with the frieze continuing from the porch and extending to the back of the building.
The Entrance Hall has the dimensions 27’ 11" x 23’ 9"; ceiling 18’ 2". This is done in the Ionic order. The entrance hall was influenced by frieze ornaments from the temple of Antoninus and Faustinia. (figure two)
The Dining room’s dimensions are 18’ 6" x 18’ 0"; ceiling 17’ 9". This room has a Doric influence as well. (figure three, right) The Tea Room has dimensions of 15’ 1" x 11’ 2"; ceiling 17’ 11" This room is also representative of the Doric order. (figure three, left)
The Parlor has dimensions of 27’ 3" x 23’ 8"; ceiling 18’ 2" This room has a Corinthian style as well as a frieze including scenes of Zeus. (figure four, shown with West Portico)
Jefferson’s bedroom sized at 18’ 7" x 13’ 5"; ceiling 18’ 8" has an Ionic order to it. The friezes were influenced by classical antiques. (figure five, left) The Cabinet measures 18’ 6" x 11’ 10"; ceiling 10’ 0". This room has been influenced by the Ionic style. (figure five, right)
There are a total of forty-three rooms in the entire structure: thirty three are in the house itself (cellar, twelve; first floor, eleven; second floor, six; third floor four); four in the pavilions; and six under the South Terrace. The stable and carriage bays under the North Terrace are not included in these totals. The first design of the Monticello had fourteen rooms total (cellar, six; first floor, five; second floor, three). The overall dimensions of the building are 110’ long, 87’ 9" wide (to outer faces of porticoes), 44’ 7" high (to oculus of dome). The heights of the different rooms vary, but as examples, the North Octagonal Room is 9’ 10" Vs the Entrance Hall which is 18’ 6". There are thirteen skylights (oculus plus twelve.) The oculus was used in Greek architecture not only for light but for religious ceremonies and a monitor of the sun. The entire house is about 11,000 square feet. However this is including all the modern additions. Only one-third of the window glass remains.
Brief Chronology of construction:
1768 Mountaintop cleared and leveled
1769 First bricks made and construction begun
1770 Jefferson moved into South Pavilion
1796 Demolition of upper story and construction based on new design
1802 Terraces Built and Dependencies begin
1808 North Pavilion completed and South Pavilion remodeled
Although the materials Jefferson used to build his house (bricks constructed at the sight, wood, etc.) differed than that of the Greek’s (marble, plaster etc.), he managed to have many features including the dome, oculus, friezes, arches, porticoes, and columns of different orders.
Other than being a leader politically, Jefferson was an inspired and inventive architect. He greatly influenced American art and architecture by bringing European influences to America. He expanded American culture by adding new ideas. The Monticello was a breakthrough in American Architecture. It was highly stylized while also being a fine example of neoclassicism. Thanks to Jefferson’s Monticello, Americans viewed buildings not only as shelter but as a form of beauty. He paved the way for many great architects, who would also use architecture as a form of art.
Kimball, Fiske. The Capitol of Virginia: A Landmark of American
Architecture. Kukla. 1989.
McLaughlin, Jack. Jefferson and Monticello: The Biography of a
Nichols, Frederick D. Thomas Jefferson’s Architectural Drawings.
O’Neal, William B. Jefferson’s Fine Arts Library: His Selections for
the University of Virginia Together with His Own Architectural Books at Monticello. 1976.
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