Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Art of the Americas

Why was Thomas Jefferson so interested in architecture?

Thomas Jefferson absolutely despised Colonial Georgian architecture, which was common in his home state of Virginia. In his Notes on the State of Virginia (c. 1781) he wrote, “It is impossible to devise things more ugly, uncomfortable, and happily, more perishable.” Jefferson, a skilled amateur architect who studied Palladio’s Four Books on Architecture, had a vision for an architecture that would define the spirit of the new United States and serve to bring the disparate populations of the former colonies together. Some of his most famous building designs include his own home, Monticello, which he built over forty years in Virginia, as well as the Virginia State Capitol, and the University of Virginia Rotunda, a building particularly inspired by the Villa Rotunda, in Rome. The University of Virginia was the first state-funded university in the United States, and in designing its main campus, Jefferson wanted to promote education and endow the new university with a sense of permanence and grandeur. Jefferson believed that architecture had the power to change people. His designs reflect his similar political goals—to create an enduring and powerful government, one that values individualism, democracy, and freedom.


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