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Architectural Analysis: Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

Updated on June 21, 2015

Like Leonardo DiVinci, many of our founding fathers would be considered a polymath, a person with a wide range of detailed study. The men and women who fall under this category have devoted their lives to understanding all that they can and applying that knowledge.

Included among them is Thomas Jefferson. He was a statesman, inventor, architect, businessman, and writer, just to name a few examples of his expertise. He may be best known as the author of the Declaration of Independence, the third President of the United States of America, buying the Louisiana purchase, or signing off on the Louis and Clarke expedition. These are obviously display his drive to make the United States of America great but he excelled in so much more.

It's at examples such as the Rotunda at the University of Virginia and his home at Monticello that his tribute to the art of architecture is still shown to this day. These 200 year old buildings display President Jefferson's attention to detail and love of neoclassical aspects of the art.

Monticello west side
Monticello west side | Source

Just Thomas, just a man who received his grandfather’s name. Born to Peter Jefferson and Jane Jefferson (Randolph) in 1743, on a 5000 acre plantation in Albemarle County, VA. It was this land he inherited, on his father’s death in 1757. Shadwell plantation was Jefferson’s original residence, until a fire destroyed the house in 1770. It was after this he lived in his famous home, Monticello. He lived in this home through the rest of his life. While residing at Monticello, Jefferson became the US minister to France, the first Secretary of state, a member of the Continental Congress, the Governor of Virginia, and even as the 3rd President. This may sound like a well accomplished man but probably his most famous piece of work, a paper that set the foundation for our nation, was at least worked on in part in those halls. Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence came to fruition on July 4th1776, as John Hancock placed his mark on the paper. President Jefferson was survived by his daughter, Martha. He passed on July 4th, 1826, preceded by his parents, wife, and 5 of his children. It is remarkable how eventful this day is, beyond the obvious. James Monroe and John Adams died on the same date. President Jefferson and President Adams past in 1926 whereas President Monroe passed in 1831. I feel it's important to note that these dates of death are thought to have been changed to increase the significance of these founding fathers passing. It is also the birthday of a 4th President, Coolidge. It is also the date of the famous battles Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Finally it's Independence Day in the United States of America.

His less noted testament to history is his beliefs and his physical mark, the buildings he left behind. Looking at his work, the University of Virginia, the Virginia Capital building, the George Driver’s house, the John Speed house in Kentucky, and Monticello; they all show an obvious similarity. Each depicts grand white, un-fluted columns around the portico. A second piece is the pediment above the portico. Finally, another example of Jefferson style is the use of domes, present in Monticello, the University rotunda, and the Capital Building. All three are tributes to classical architecture commonly found in Greece and Ancient Rome.

His home at Monticello was a good representation of several individual architectural details. Most being derived from classical architecture often associated with the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. This particular style, called neo-classical is also commonly found in many state and federal buildings across the nation.

Each side, situated on a cardinal direction, had a pediment. The front of the building, to the east, is supported by Tuscan columns. Round arches adorn the doors and windows. A second pediment can be found above the main door of the building. The design to the east is not far off from the western side, with the exception of a second pediment over the doorway. The southern side, has three round arch windows. While the northern side, has a brick arcade. The rooftop is detailed with white balustrades around the outermost edge. In the center is one of the buildings most iconic pieces, the dome.

Although Thomas Jefferson’s style differs in the design of the Virginia Capital, it still follows his taste in classical works. The Virginia state capital building was designed because the Virginia Legislature moved to relocate the Virginia capital to Richmond in 1778. Thomas Jefferson drafted the designs with a French architect named Charles-Louis Clerisseau. They based the idea after the Mason Carree, a roman temple in the southern French town of Nimes. Its design is one of two statehouses to imitate an ancient monument, along with Vermont. Construction started in 1785 and completed 7 years later in 1792.

The Capital Building’s columns are of Iconic design, supporting an unornamented pediment. Around the outside of the building a cornice and at the corners are large rectangular pilasters. The rotunda boasts a dome with a circular skylight. Although the exterior may represent the Mason Carree, the interior design has partial pediments over the 1st floor doors and small arched hallows for display of busts.

Although I don’t have enough time to properly go into detail of all of this great man’s work. The simple classical details in Monticello and the Virginia Capitol building are a good basis to start a study of Jefferson’s style. It’s this classical style that can be found in many of our nation’s state and federal buildings, monuments, and landmarks. One such Monument is the Jefferson memorial, which unsurprisingly consists of ionic columns, pediments, and a large dome.

If you happen to visit Charlottesville, VA, this is one attraction you can't afford to miss. A mere $24 will get you the guided tour but it can go up to $600 for a private tour. If you feel like going upstairs it'll cost you $42. Probably one of the most interesting doesn't really concern Monticello. The Archaeological Workshop ($15), Gardening workshop ($15), and the plant propagation workshop ($15) can give you a hands on experience while on your trip. Also, if you plan to bring the youngsters, there is reduced cost, usually $8, for the children (workshops vary on this). Information on visiting Monticello can be found here.

It should be noted, most of my material on the physical description of the buildings is from pictures and my own analysis. I used the pictures provided by Bluffton University and the architectural information provided by

Duomo of Firenze (Florence, Italy)
Duomo of Firenze (Florence, Italy) | Source

More to come

I'm back on Hubpages and will be continuing posting hubs in the various niches that I'm trying to fill. I've video game reviews and architecture analyses hubs already posted and I'm planning on continuing down this route. I'll also be posting a few hubs detailing different architectural terms and providing examples to illustrate.

If you have a building that you want me to breakdown like I've done Monticello, post it in the comments and I'll do what I can.

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    • srsddn profile image

      srsddn 5 years ago from Dehra Dun, India

      djashburnal, it is great of you to have talked about architectural aspects of Jefferson's home at Monticello. Voted up.