Enfilade

Exhibition | Thomas Jefferson, Architect

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, lectures (to attend) by Editor on October 25, 2019

Model of Jefferson’s Design for the President’s House Competition, designed by Simone Baldissini and constructed by Ivan Simonato, 2015, scale 1:66, wood, resin, and tempera (Vicenza: Palladio Museum; photo by Lorenzo Ceretta).

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Press release (18 April 2019) for the exhibition:

Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia, 19 October 2019 — 19 January 2020

 Curated by Erik Neil, Lloyd DeWitt, and Corey Piper

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, President of the United States, and author of the Declaration of Independence. The most important architectural thinker of the young American republic, Jefferson conveyed ideals of liberty and democracy in his designs. He was also a slave owner. A new exhibition from the Chrysler Museum of Art titled Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles and the Conflict of Ideals explores this divergence alongside his extraordinary architectural influence.

Thomas Jefferson, Monticello: Observation Tower, recto, ca. 1771, pen and Ink with gray wash (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts).

Organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art in collaboration with the Palladio Museum in Vicenza, Italy, the exhibition focuses on the ideas, formation, and key monuments of the Founding Father who dramatically influenced the architectural profile of the young republic. It will also confront the inherent conflict between Jefferson’s pursuit of contemporary ideals of liberty and democracy and his use of slave labor to construct his monuments.

The Chrysler Museum’s exhibition will follow Jefferson’s evolution as an architect with nearly 130 objects, including models, rare books, paintings, drawings, early photographs, and architectural elements. Visitors will see objects from the Chrysler’s rich collection, as well as loans from the Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art, Jefferson’s residences at Monticello and Poplar Forest in Virginia, the University of Virginia, and other museums and libraries.

The Palladio Museum will provide 14 models, including 10 newly created models of Jefferson’s buildings and four models displaying the key architecture of Renaissance master Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). The exhibition will feature models of Monticello and Jefferson’s design for the U.S. president’s house, which was not selected, as well as numerous representations of the Pantheon that will highlight its architectural influence on the University of Virginia’s Rotunda. The Chrysler will also display the only autographed drawing by Palladio in an American collection as well as various editions of his treatise, The Four Books of Architecture.

Visitors will also see bricks, nails, and other components from Jefferson’s buildings that were created by enslaved laborers and craftsmen, as well as two rare images of enslaved and formerly enslaved people who can be linked directly to Jefferson and his buildings. These include Isaac Granger Jefferson, an artisan who was a tinsmith and blacksmith and labored in the nailery as an enslaved worker at Jefferson’s Monticello.

“Thomas Jefferson engaged with the most advanced ideas of architecture and city planning of his era. He was also a slave owner who failed to resolve his ideals about freedom and democracy with his reliance upon the institution of slavery. We will examine these facets of Jefferson’s architectural formation and practice to foster a new and fuller understanding of his accomplishments,” said Museum Director Erik H. Neil.

Through his education in Virginia, travels in the colonies and Europe and extensive library, Thomas Jefferson engaged with both classical and contemporary ideas about architecture. His projects frequently referenced ancient models or those of established authorities such as Palladio. He pursued forms that were both aesthetic models and expressive of the new republic’s democratic ideals. He employed those influences in his designs for the Virginia State Capitol, the University of Virginia, buildings in Washington, D.C. and his own residences, Monticello and Poplar Forest.

“For both Jefferson and Palladio, the architecture of the ancients was the key model with regard to functionality, style and meaning,” Neil said. “We see evidence of Thomas Jefferson’s influence in the architecture throughout our region, and we are excited to share the history and influence of these designs with our visitors to present important elements of Virginia’s history.”

Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles and the Conflict of Ideals is curated by the Chrysler Museum’s Erik Neil, director; Lloyd DeWitt, chief curator and Irene Leache curator of European art; and Corey Piper, Brock curator of American art.

Lloyd DeWitt and Corey Piper, with an introduction by Erik Neil and contributions by Guido Beltramini, Barry Bergdoll, Howard Burns, Lloyd DeWitt, Louis P. Nelson, Mabel O. Wilson, and Richard Guy Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles, and the Conflict of Ideals (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019), 208 pages, ISBN: 978-0300246209, $45.

A richly illustrated catalog published by Yale University Press will accompany the exhibition. A team of leading international scholars will offer new scholarship and a fresh appraisal of Jefferson’s formation and career as an architect, engage the impact and legacy of his status as a slave owner and highlight the work and contributions of enslaved laborers and artisans. Contributors include Lloyd DeWitt, the Chrysler Museum’s chief curator, and Irene Leache, curator of European art; Howard Burns, president of the Centro Palladio, Scuola Normale Pisa; Guido Beltramini, director of the Palladio Museum; Richard Guy Wilson and Louis P. Nelson, both from the University of Virginia; and Barry Bergdoll and Mabel O. Wilson of Columbia University.

S E L E C T E D  P R O G R A M M I N G

Mabel O. Wilson and Louis P. Nelson in Conversation
Saturday, 2pm, 26 October 2019

Renowned scholars Mabel O. Wilson and Louis P. Nelson will discuss the contributions and legacy of enslaved craftsman on the architecture of Thomas Jefferson. Wilson is a professor of architectural design at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Research in African American Studies and co-directs Global Africa Lab. Nelson is the Vice Provost for Academic Outreach and Professor of Architectural History at the University of Virginia. Register at chrysler.org.

Travis McDonald, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest
Sunday, 2pm, 1 December 2019

Travis McDonald, the Director of Architectural Restoration at Poplar Forest, will offer insight into the restoration of Thomas Jefferson’s personal retreat and plantation and the work of enslaved craftspeople.

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