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The Chrysler Museum of Art explores the architectural design practices and conflicting ideals of Thomas Jefferson
Designed by Simone Baldissini. Constructed by Ivan Simonato. Model of Jefferson’s design for the President’s House competition (scale 1:66), 2015. Wood, resin, and tempera. Palladio Museum, Vicenza. Photo: Lorenzo Ceretta.


NORFOLK, VA.- This fall, the Chrysler Museum of Art examines the many facets of the most important architectural thinker of the young American republic. Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles and the Conflict of Ideals on view Oct. 19, 2019-Jan. 19, 2020. The Chrysler-curated exhibition was organized in collaboration with the Palladio Museum in Vicenza, Italy.

In addition to authoring the Declaration of Independence and serving as Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State and President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) created groundbreaking architectural designs that conveyed ideals of liberty and democracy. In contrast to his architectural values, he also enslaved people. This exhibition focuses on the ideas, formation and key monuments of the Founding Father who dramatically influenced the architectural profile of America. It also confronts the inherent conflict between Jefferson’s pursuit of contemporary ideals of liberty and democracy and his use of enslaved people to construct his monuments.

“With Monticello, the Virginia State House and the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson created three of the finest architectural monuments in America. Our exhibition places these exceptional works in a broader context and helps reveal the complexity of their meaning,” said Museum Director Erik Neil. “With the consideration of a broad range of scholarly viewpoints and a concerted community engagement effort, we intend to tell a comprehensive story of Jefferson’s architecture and the impact of his legacy.”

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 Renaissance master Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). Jefferson pursued forms that were both aesthetic models and expressive of the new republic’s democratic ideals. Those influences were employed 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. He also engaged with the public discourse on architecture.

The Chrysler Museum’s exhibition follows Jefferson’s evolution as an architect with more than 120 objects, including models, paintings, drawings, early photographs and architectural elements. The exhibition also features numerous illustrated treatises owned by Jefferson, including a group of rare books that were only recently rediscovered and served as a source of inspiration and practical guidance for Jefferson. Visitors can 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 provided 11 models, including eight newly created models of Jefferson’s buildings and three models displaying the key architecture of Palladio. The exhibition features 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 highlight its architectural influence on the University of Virginia’s Rotunda. The Chrysler is also displaying the only autographed drawing by Palladio in an American collection as well as various editions of his treatise, The Four Books of Architecture.

Visitors can 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 African American individuals who can be linked directly to Jefferson and his buildings. These include the freeman Isaac Granger Jefferson, a skilled artisan who was a metalsmith in the nailery at Jefferson’s Monticello.

“Thomas Jefferson’s architectural influence is apparent in the architecture throughout our region. It is with great anticipation that we share the history of his work and the influence of his designs,” said Neil. We are committed to presenting this very important part of our cultural history in a way that acknowledges the role of slavery in Jefferson’s life and career.”






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