Thomas Jefferson and Monticello

Contributed by Ulrich Flemming

Snippet 1

The so-called Jefferson Nickel is the nickel with the widest circulation today. As the name suggests, the coin shows on one side a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, and on the other side a building named "Monticello". This may surprise some: Why not show an image of the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson wrote, or the Jefferson Memorial in Wasgington, DC, which celebrates his achievements as president? Perhaps the designers of the Jefferson Nickel wanted to remind us that Jefferson was also a gifted architect who influenced strongly the course of architecture in the early days of the United States. He designed the State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, and the original campus of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. But his most famous design is Monticello, the home he designed for himself and in which he lived until his death in 1826.

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"... Jefferson gave reality to many of his architectural dreams at Monticello... There was an almost continuous building operation there, and as late as the year before his death Jefferson was importing some of the marble facings for his fireplaces... The design of the house as we now see it is a very personal expression of the desires of his owner and designer, distilled from the many architectural books in his library, from his travels, and from his experience." * In particular, Jefferson learned from his books and travels how to use architectural elements like columns, domes, and arches that figure prominently in the buildings the ancient Greeks and Romans erected. He admired this type of architecture not only because of its beauty, but also because it was the architecture of the ancient Greek democracies and of the Roman Republic. To him and other members of his generation, this architecture came to symbolize the values on which the new American Republic was based.

Snippet 3

Here's a website, the Monticello Explorer, which offers all kinds information about Monticello for those who want to learn more. For example, there is a 3-dimensional computer model that you can interactively manipulate and, especially, a well-done, very detailed guided house tour.

Last change made to this page: April 17, 2011