JEFFERSON, Thomas

(1743-1826)
   Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence, was a self-taught architect very much interested in the ideals of the European Enlightenment. By the middle of the 18th century, the British version of Neo-Classicism had been introduced into North America, and this architectural style continued dominant in the colonies despite mounting hostilities with England. After the War of Independence, American Neo-Classicism, which dates from 1783 to 1830, came to be called the Federal style. In 1784, Jefferson traveled to France; after becoming the American minister to France a year later, he remained in Paris until 1789 and was exposed to Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and the prevailing Neo-Classical styles of architecture. Although in the 1770s he had already designed his private home called Monticello outside Charlottesville, Virginia, in the style of British Neo-Classicism, upon his return from Paris he completely redesigned it to feature a more elegant French design. Mingling the rather austere Palladian architecture popular in England with a more intimate French style that featured taller, narrower windows and French doors, Jefferson brought a new sophistication to Neo-Classicism.
   When he was in France, he had seen examples of Rococo villas with a more intimate one-story design and less angular corners than the prevailing Neo-Classical style. Therefore, at Monticello, Jefferson minimized his second story and angled the wings of his home inward to soften its corners. The roofline, with a balustrade and a low dome, curves inward gently, much like the Rococo style. With the use of red brick instead of stone, and with contrasting white wood columns and white molding with black framing around the windows, the home is much more humble in its overall appearance. Thomas Jefferson can be credited with combining various elements of European architecture into a style that came to be uniquely North American.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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