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The characteristics of Neoclassicism architectures are that they have a sense of naturalistic, simplicity and rationalistic. From a rationalistic perspective, there is clarity in terms of room arrangement, proportion, and form. This is because, these works seem to have borrowed techniques from the ancient Greek, and were adopted into the neoclassicist era through Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is a fine example of Neoclassicism architecture in the United States of America because it reveals the Roman form while still retaining characteristics of Neoclassicism, it also has the picturesque English style landscape garden, and its overall stance creates a mood to show Jefferson’s double-sidedness that are tolerance and practical. Thomas Jefferson was the first secretary of state, and an American philosopher. Through Jefferson’s architectural designs, it is evident that infusing roman and American designs represent a unique philosophical dimension in a world where racist thoughts and freedom was a rare commodity. However, this paper seeks to describe art from different dimensions and perspective.
First, Jefferson in an attempt to mirror the classical Roman architectural designs, he incorporated the Roman orders into the Monticello. The Roman orders are three and include the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. According to Adams Jefferson’s design was a direct result of carefully studying Palladio’s treatise as opposed to adapting to the contemporary Virginian models.Hence, he adopted Palladio’s treatise and used it as a guide to draw something permanent. Looking at the final drawings of the elevation, it is evident that the central portico has two Roman orders, the Doric order used to offer support below it similar to Palladio, and an enhanced Ionic order, which is connects to the broad stair case. An illustration of the Doric order can be seen in Figure 2 of the Appendices.
In addition, the Corinthian order was used in some of the room designs. The presence of the full height and influted Corinthian pillars in the east parlor of Tuckahoe show caps joined in a strange way, which confirms Jefferson’s view that perfection is no workman’s role. The Corinthian order specifically has a strong connection with the Roman classical approach. This can be seen in the base moldings and cornice, which were inspired by the Corinthian temple of Nerva Trajan, found in Palladio’s attic story.
Secondly, the dome is another significant feature of the Monticello that shows Roman classical architecture in action. The dome picture of the dome can be viewed in Figure 1 of the Appendices section. According to Cheuk “The dome, constructed in 1800 saw the first on a house in America”. Hence, being the first house in America with a dome, this marked the beginning of a new era in the practice of building arising from this rather cultural and ideological importation. Jefferson lowered the west front second floor study room by about 8 feet and constructed a dome over it, which was inspired by Rome’s Temple of Vesta as illustrated in Giacorno Leoni’s revised edition of Palladio’s ‘Four Books of Architecture’.
These views are also echoed with Howard who remarked that “he played with columned porticos, triple-hung sash, and the de l’Orne dome”. Thus, the same way the creation of the dome design during the Roman era brought positive influence into the Roman technique of the building is the same way Thomas Jefferson’s borrowing of the dome design changed the American architecture, consequently making a mark by bringing with it beauty, elegance, and design.
Thirdly, the garden architecture of Monticello is another unique element that portrays its adoption of the English garden design. Jefferson was an individual was overly concerned with the natural world. His methodological record keeping portrays his view of the common natural environment as a biological laboratory. His appreciation and admiration of nature led him to not only focus on the structural elements of Monticello, but also on other aesthetic values. As a result, Jefferson was able to express the English view of garden pleasure, metal roof surfaces, skylights, and other possible architectural contrivances. He went on to create a unique garden architecture that would later be adopted for his residence. The flower garden had a narrow flower border and ribbon beds arranged into 10-foot sections, and would not have been considered as a fashionable entity in the modern standards, which are rather broad and of mixed perennial borders that define the modern garden art.
Jefferson’s inspiration to adopt the English garden style came after his visit to England. This happened when he toured English gardens in 1786 when he was serving as a minister in France during which he stated after returning that “the gardening in that country is the article in which it surpasses all the earth”. This was the second Jefferson was borrowing from Europe after Palladio’s in-depth review that led to the Monticello design. In essence, the English landscape design was an attempt to mirror eighteenth century landscape paints while attempting to narrow the gap between the park, garden, and the English countryside.
As a result, Jefferson attempted to replicate what he had seen in England with an aim of giving it an American feel. In this regard, to achieve the English landscape design on the Monticello compound, Jefferson planted trees in clumps, created an informal serpentine flower walk, and ornamental forest or groove. The pictures for the trees in clumps can be seen in figure 4 and 5 in the Appendices. Since then, the clumped garden style has transformed the American landscaping architecture with successful attempts of Americanizing the English style. Thus, the English gardening style has infused into Thomas Jefferson’s neoclassicist approach as a unique way of transforming not only the structural component of the building, but also the surroundings.
Additionally, using the landscape, Jefferson created a winding walk that suggested ‘a room outside an enclosed retreat’, while the flower beds were left open to the Piedmont Virginia landscape in order to create an intimate balance with nature in what Cheuk termed as ‘the workhouse of nature’ Jefferson attempted to blend the gardens with the building by creating a theme. This was especially evident with the vegetable/kitchen garden, which was termed as his most successful in the entire Monticello horticulture scheme. Thus, by focusing on a specific theme, Jefferson was able to bring into life neoclassicism by merging natural aspects of the surrounding into the physical and lifeless cornerstone. This was an important aspect in the neoclassicist era, where the definition of beauty of an architectural design not only consisted of the grand design, but it also included nature in the form of a beautifully arranged landscape.
Thomas president was the third president of the US, founded the University of Virginia, and wrote the phenomenal ‘Declaration of Independence’ and ‘the statue of religious freedom’. Thomas Jefferson was born 200 years after the onset of Renaissance, which represented Reformation and Humanism. As a result borrowing from this background he sought to understand his surrounding in a dynamic way. Furthermore, this humanistic approach influenced his concentration on naturalism as a unique trait of art and design.
Jefferson consciously applied the principles borrowed from the period of Renaissance in achieving his goal of racial enlightenment in America. This partly played a role in his passion for the classical era, and the personal strive to merge this with the American way of life, consequently resulting in a one of the most adored pieces of architecture globally, the Monticello. “Jefferson was the most universal as a human being of all his American and perhaps European contemporaries also”. This was partly driven by the manner in which he embraced American and European virtues by incorporating them into his philosophy, which ultimately defined his ideals regarding the classical era.
Thomas Jefferson’s exhibited tolerance by enduring the effort, time, and mindset to practically achieve his dream house, the Monticello. As a result, borrowing strongly from the Roman classical era designs, Jefferson merged this design fundamentals bringing with it a new era of art christened as neoclassicism. “For Jefferson, plants were intimately associated with people – friends, neighbors, political allies – and the exchange of seeds, bulbs, and fruit scions represented a token of enduring friendship”. They served as a symbol of showing allegiance to his ideals by extending a seed of his product. Similar to the manner in which he exported the European and Roman cultural, he sought to export his ideals to other areas where he believed they would have an impact.
This reveals how the garden did not only serve as an aesthetic value, but influenced a deeper meaning which Jefferson intended to express to the world. Consequently, this new form of art thrived into the present time, taking into account the fact that Thomas Jefferson did not have a scholarly background in design since this was a natural gift. Thus, using his work of art, Thomas sought to use it as a way of imparting positive knowledge and thinking in terms of architecture among the Americans.
Through his distinctive work, the Monticello, Thomas Jefferson emerged as one of the new forces in the phenomenal field of architectural design by searching for the Roman character and infusing this into the American ‘architecture alphabet’. Using the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders, Thomas Jefferson was able to impart a new form of housing design that had never been seen in America. This served to mark the onset of classical Roman architecture into America, which in the end transcended into neoclassicism. The influence of Palladio’s treatise on his course of architectural design leaves with it lasting vestiges, which will serve as a landmark in the field of architecture. Neoclassicism remains an era highly attributed to Thomas Jefferson’s struggle to promote independence of thought. This is exemplified by his own life in which he strives to represent a unique philosophical dimension in a world where racist thoughts and freedom was a rare commodity.
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