1Thomas Jefferson’s idea for the design of the University of Virginia brought together a unique combination of influences, establishing an environment for higher learning that was unlike any other. The source of Jefferson’s design has been the subject of numerous studies, linking his interest in classical architecture, his travels in Europe and his familiarity with other campus designs as influences in conceptualizing his own university (fig. 1–3).
Fig. 1: Thomas Jefferson (architect); Benjamin Tanner (engraver), University of Virginia, detail from Herman Böÿe Map of Virginia, 1826, engraving, 26 ⅝ × 13 ⅙ in. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, G3880 1859.B615 1859.
Fig. 2: Thomas Jefferson (architect), University of Virginia, view looking north to the Rotunda, 2012.
© Michelle Benoit/2012
Fig. 3: Thomas Jefferson (architect), University of Virginia, view looking South, 2012.
© Michelle Benoit/2012
- 1 Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. 85.
2The Château de Marly (fig. 4–5), a royal residence of the Ancien Régime that Jefferson visited on his trip to France in 1784 and 1786, is often cited by historians as the primary influence upon his design for the University of Virginia thirty years later.1 The composition of buildings, or pavilions, at the Château de Marly, although used for a different function, is strikingly similar to Jefferson’s organization of buildings at the University of Virginia. Despite the obvious similarities between the two projects, Jefferson’s plans for the university went through a long gestation and indicate how complex the question of influence can be on the final design. To understand the full impact the Château de Marly had on the design of the University of Virginia, it is necessary to look beyond the composition alone and consider other cultural influences and terminology that Jefferson was exposed to on his trip abroad. His decision to refer to the ten buildings on the lawn of the University of Virginia as pavilions, for example, may well have come from his memories of the pavilions at the Château de Marly.
Fig. 4: Jules Hardouin Mansart (architect); Gilles de Mortains (engraver), Veue du Chateau et Parc de Marli, from Les Plans, profils, et élevations, des villes, et Château de Versailles, 1716, plate, 50 cm. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Rare Books Division, NA7736 .V5 M6 1716.
Fig. 5: Grounds of the Château de Marly, 2012.
© Michelle Benoit/2012
- 2 Kimball 1923, p. 399. Also see Kimball 1950, pp. 165–166; and Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. (...)
- 3 Kimball 1923, p. 397.
3The historian Fiske Kimball first suggested the idea that the Château de Marly served as the model for the University of Virginia in his 1923 article titled “The Genesis of Jefferson’s Plan for the University of Virginia.”2 Unlike other architects and historians of the time, Kimball defended Jefferson’s role as architect of the University of Virginia, something Jefferson had previously not been recognized for. Kimball explained that because of the “recurrent scepticism on the part of architects that Jefferson himself could have composed it [the University of Virginia], fresh theories are always put forward to account for its origin.”3 He supports Jefferson’s role as the architect of the University by citing Jefferson’s four years in France as equal to any formal architectural education one could have received at the time. Kimball posits that as a self-trained architect, Jefferson would have fully understood the merits of the arrangement of buildings and overall design of the Château de Marly. Therefore, his design for the University of Virginia was not just a blatant copy of an earlier architectural precedent, but a more complex design drawn from a variety of sources.
- 4 Wilson, Neuman and Butler 2012, p. 17.
- 5 Raymond 1907, p. 2. Also see Woods 1985, p. 267.
- 6 Woods 1985, p. 267.
- 7 Honeywell 1931, p. xiii.
4There is no one ultimate source for the design of the University of Virginia. Instead, it is unique among earlier American colleges because it draws from a variety of sources.4 Jefferson began forming ideas for his ideal university years before seeing the Château de Marly. He would have certainly been familiar with the oldest models of the American college — Harvard, which was established in 1636, William and Mary (1693), Yale (1701) and Princeton University (1746).5 Many of the earliest American colleges were connected to religious institutions, and architecturally resembled nothing more than large houses.6 Out of all of the American models, William and Mary (fig. 6) was the most influential in forming Jefferson’s vision of the ideal college, since he studied there from 1760 to 1762.7
Fig. 6: Anonym, Detail of the Bodeleian Plate, depicting the College of William and Mary, copperplate. Williamsburg (VA), Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Accession #1938-196.
© The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Gift of the Bodleian Library
- 8 Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. 1.
- 9 Ibid., p. 3.
- 10 Woods 1985, p. 273.
- 11 Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. 3.
5At William and Mary, all of the students and faculty resided in the same building. Jefferson noted that his fellow students were often distracted from their studies by heavy drinking and gambling, two habits that he found to be unsuitable for a serious academic setting.8 He had the first opportunity to remedy the plan of the single large college building, which is one of the major factors that he believed contributed to the licentious behaviour of his fellow students, when he was asked by Lord Dunmore, governor of the Colony of Virginia, to design an extension for the college of William and Mary.9 The proposed extension forms an enclosed rectangular courtyard, lined with covered passages on the interior (fig. 7).10 The extension was never realized, since building was put on hold by the impending Revolution of 1774.11 Jefferson’s design for the extension echoes many of the features later present in the University of Virginia, such as the mixing of student dormitories and classrooms, as well as a central courtyard surrounded by an arcade. Jefferson’s proposed addition showed that he already had elements of a design for a university in mind, long before his visit to the Château de Marly.
Fig. 7: Plan for the Addition to the College of William and Mary, 1771–72, ink on paper, 9 × 13 ⅝ in. San Marino, Ca, The Huntington Library.
© The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
- 12 Jefferson recorded in his account book on 31 July 1784, “Pd. Portage from waterside at Havre to the (...)
- 13 Jefferson recorded in his account book on 6 August 1784, “Marly for seeing works 2f8.” Jefferson 19 (...)
6Jefferson’s architectural education was undoubtedly furthered by his travels abroad from 1784–1789. He first arrived in France on 31 July 1784 working as the minister to France.12 He entered at the harbour in Le Havre, and travelled over the next six days toward Paris. On 6 August, before reaching his final destination, Jefferson paid to see the Machine de Marly (fig. 8).13 The engineering of the water pumping system would have been of great interest to Jefferson, who was always looking for ways to transport to water to his mountain-top home, Monticello.
Fig. 8: Pierre-Denis Martin, La machine et l’aqueduc de Marly, seventeenth century, oil on canvas, 1.150 × 1.65 m. Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, MV 778.
© Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Marc Manaï
- 14 “Maria Cosway,” accessed 7 December 2011, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/.
- 15 Cunningham 1988, p. 102.
- 16 Shackelford 1995, p. 65.
- 17 Jefferson recorded in his account book on 7 September 1786, “Pd. seeing machine of Marly 6f, the Ch (...)
- 18 Letter to Maria Cosway, 12 October 1786. The letter is a battle of head versus heart, in which Jeff (...)
- 19 The “Desert,” as mentioned by Jefferson in his letter, is a reference to the Désert de Retz — a fan (...)
- 20 Shackelford 1995, p. 67.
7After his initial arrival to France, Jefferson would not return to Marly for another two years. His second visit was much less practical, but one of leisure. This time he was accompanied by Maria Cosway (fig. 9–10), a married Englishwoman who was residing in Paris for the summer.14 Jefferson was introduced to Maria through John Trumbull, a mutual acquaintance, in August of 1786.15 The two soon quickly became close friends, and perhaps even lovers. They went on many leisurely excursions together, visiting the sites of Paris and the countryside.16 On 7 September 1786 they visited the Machine de Marly along with the château, and even stopped to have a picnic in the gardens.17 In a letter to Maria a month later, Jefferson fondly recalls their visit to Marly together: “How beautiful was every object! The port de Neuilly, the hills along the Seine, the rainbows of the machine of Marly, the terras of Saint-Germains, the chateaux, the gardens, the [statues] of Marly … Every moment was filled with something agreeable.”18 Jefferson again mentions Marly in a letter written to Maria on 1 July 1787: “Come then, my dear Madam, and we will breakfast every day á l’Angloise, hie away to the Desert, dine under the bowers of Marly, and forget that we are ever to part again.”19 Out of all of the royal French châteaux, Jefferson preferred Marly the best.20 However, his fondness for Marly was most likely clouded with the memory of a long, summer afternoon spent with Maria.
Fig. 9: Print made by Valentine Green, after Maria Cosway, Mrs Cosway, Self-Portrait, 1787, photogravure on paper, 33.5 × 46 cm. London, The British Museum, British XVIIIc Unmounted Imp, 1941,1011.65.
© Trustees of the British Museum
Fig. 10: After Bouch; Auguste Gaspard Louis Boucher Desnoyers (engraver), Portrait of President Jefferson, bust-length, slightly turned to the left, wearing dark jacket and lace tie, c. 1801, stipple engraving, 38.5 × 27.7 cm. London, British Museum, 1867,0309.1167 [online record].
© Trustees of the British Museum
- 21 Jefferson’s memorandum book from 26 April 1786 reads: “Canterbury. pd. Postilln backwds. 2/ — do. f (...)
- 22 Jefferson’s memorandum book from 9 April 1786 reads: “Oxford. postiln & turnp. 2/ — doorkeepers of (...)
8During his travels aboard, Jefferson possibly visited two other colleges, among other buildings, that would have further shaped his ideas of what a university should look like. He took a short trip to England in the spring of 1786. It was during this trip that he briefly travelled through Canterbury, en route to London, where he might have observed the college associated with Canterbury Cathedral.21 Jefferson’s memorandum shows that he also passed through Oxford College, but he did not say anything about the buildings in particular.22 Both colleges would have exposed Jefferson to earlier models of English campus planning. In general, the model of a European college was one located in an urban centre, and often associated with religious institutions, much like early American colleges.
- 23 Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. 7.
9Overall, Jefferson was dissatisfied with the private education system, and did not recommend that any of his fellow Americans go to study abroad, for they might pick up “unsavory habits and a fondness for aristocracy.”23 Instead, he hoped for a system of public education that would improve the knowledge of the common man as well as those born into higher circumstances. Jefferson was able to pursue his dream of a system of public education upon his return to Virginia in 1789, although it would take several more years to make his dream a reality.
- 24 Ibid., p. 6.
- 25 Letter from TJ to Littleton Waller Tazewell, 5 January 1805. Grizzard, Jr. 1989, http://xtf.lib.vir (...)
10The opportune moment to present his ideas on public education arose late in 1804, when L.W. Tazewell solicited Jefferson for suggestions on how to design the ideal university.24 Jefferson responded to Tazewell in a letter dated 5 January 1805, with the opinion that “large houses are always ugly, inconvenient, exposed to the accident of fire, and bad in case of infection. A plain small house for the school and lodging of each professor is best […] a university should not be a house but a village.”25 Jefferson further clarifies his idea for a university five years later, in a letter to the Trustees for the Lottery of East Tennessee College, dated 6 May 1810:
- 26 Jefferson 1943, p. 1063.
I consider the common plan followed in this country, but not in others, of making one large and expensive building, as unfortunately erroneous. It is infinitely better to erect a small and separate lodge for each separate professorship with only a hall below for his class, and two chambers above for himself; joining these lodges by barracks for a certain portion of the students, opening into a covered way to give a dry communication between all the schools. The whole of these arranged around an open square of grass and trees, would make it, what it should be in fact, an academical village, instead of a large and common den of noise, of filth and of fetid air. It would afford that quiet retirement so friendly to study, and lessen the dangers of fire, infection and tumult.26
11Jefferson’s mention of an “academical village” is significant because it is the first time he articulates a term to refer to his idea for an open arrangement of individual buildings. It further solidified his ideas for what would be a completely new approach to education in the United States. Because Jefferson’s first reference to this specific arrangement occurred roughly twenty years after his visit to Marly, it suggests that he did not make any immediate connections between his visit to the Château in 1786 and his earliest ideas for the design of an academical village.
- 27 Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. 8.
- 28 “Preliminary Ground Plan for Albemarle Academy,” Charlottesville VA, University of Virginia, Albert (...)
12Jefferson further developed his concept for a university over the next several years, which can be referred to as Albemarle Academy, Central College and the University of Virginia, respectively. Jefferson joined the Board of Trustees for the project of Albemarle Academy in March 1814. Albemarle Academy was a secondary school chartered by the State of Virginia in 1803, whose construction had not yet been implemented.27 Within months of becoming a trustee, Jefferson produced his initial visual composition for Albemarle Academy (fig. 11–12). A plan of the Academy shows three pavilions at the north end of the lawn, along with three pavilions on the east and west sides of the lawn, all equal in size. The east and west wings were to be separated by 257 yards.28 The pavilions were connected by covered walkways, with the southern end of the lawn left completely open. An elevation of one of the proposed pavilions is two-stories with a central doorway, with windows on either side. Chinese-style railings are shown above the one-storey student dormitories and on the second level of the pavilion.
Fig. 11: Thomas Jefferson (architect), Preliminary Ground Plan for Albemarle Academy, August 1814, detail of iron-gall ink on laid paper, 13 ½ × 21 in. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Jefferson Papers, N-309.
Fig. 12: Thomas Jefferson (architect), Elevation Showing Typical Pavilion and Dormitories for Albemarle Academy, August 1814, iron-gall ink on laid paper, 21 × 13 ½ in. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Jefferson Papers, N-309.
13If there was any doubt to when Jefferson first formed his ideas for an academical village, as first mentioned in a 1805 letter to Tazewell, and later drawn in his 1814 plans for Albemarle Academy; he clarifies the point himself in a letter to Benjamin Latrobe dated 3 August 1817 (fig. 13):
- 29 Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin H. Latrobe, August 3, 1817, with Drawing, Washington, DC, Library of C (...)
The general idea of an academical village rather than of one large building was formed by me, perhaps about  years ago, on being consulted by one L.W. Tazewell then a member of our legislature, which was supposed to be then disposed to go into that measure. When called upon 2 or 3 years ago by the trustees of the Albemarle Academy, I recommended the same plan and drew the ichnography and elevations for them, but this was all before an actual site was acquired, consequently imaginary and formed on the idea of a plain ad libitum.29
Fig. 13: Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin H. Latrobe, 3 August 1817, with drawing, ink on paper. Washington, DC, The Library of Congress, The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1, General Correspondence.
- 30 Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. 9.
14Jefferson’s own estimate for when he first devised a new educational model confirms that it was developed several years after his visit to Marly, which further distances the project as a source of influence. At this point in time, it appears that Jefferson devised Albemarle Academy as a model for universities all over the country, and not just one that was limited to the state of Virginia.30 Because a site was not yet acquired, Jefferson’s ideas were still in the conceptual stages.
- 31 Ibid., p. 10.
- 32 Ibid., p. 12.
15The project took another turn toward the end of 1815, when Jefferson, along with trustee Joseph C. Cabell, introduced a bill to the legislature and in hopes of acquiring funding for the project. In the bill, Jefferson abandoned the original charter for Albemarle Academy, and instead referred to the new proposal as Central College.31 A Board of Visitors was established to help raise funds for the College. Although the bill was not immediately approved to make Central College the official state university, the project moved forward. Jefferson, along with the six members of the Board of Visitors, acquired forty-four acres on which the College would be situated on 8 April 1817 (fig. 14). The site was a little over a mile away from the city of Charlottesville, Virginia — a narrow ridge surrounded by roads on two sides and a stream on the other.32
Fig. 14: Thomas Jefferson, Lands of the Central College, 1819, ink on paper, 8 × 9 ¾ in. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Jefferson Papers, N-554, item 2.
Fig. 15: Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Dr William Thornton, 9 May 1817, ink on laid paper, 8 ½ × 10 ¼ in. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Jefferson Papers, N-300.
- 33 Wilson, Neuman and Butler 2012, p. 38.
- 34 Letter by Thomas Jefferson to Dr William Thornton. 9 May 1817. Wilson, Neuman and Butler 2012, pp. (...)
- 35 Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. 13.
- 36 Wilson, Neuman and Butler 2012, p. 38.
- 37 Ibid.
16Shortly after the land was purchased, Jefferson wrote to two of his peers, Dr William Thornton and Benjamin Latrobe, for suggestions for the design of the pavilions.33 Jefferson believed that the pavilions should be “models of taste and good architecture, and of a variety of appearance, no two alike, so as to serve as a model as specimens for the Architectural lecturer” (fig. 15).34 Thornton’s and Latrobe’s proposals both followed the wide scheme that Jefferson envisioned before land was acquired, since he was not yet sure how to adapt his plans to fit within the selected site (fig. 16–17).35 The land purchased for Jefferson’s College had to be leveled for construction. The area was manipulated into a series of three terraces, with a forty-two inch drop between each level.36 Jefferson redrew the plan so that it would fit within the limits of the new site, with the pavilions 200 feet apart instead of 750 feet.37 Therefore, it is more a coincidence and result of site restrictions that the design of the University of Virginia is similar in proportion to the Château de Marly, and not a premeditated dimension that Jefferson recalled from his visit to the Château years earlier.
Fig. 16: Dr William Thornton, Facade Studies for a Doric and Corinthian Pavilion, 1817, prickling, pencil, light-grey writing ink, Indian ink, and watercolor on wove paper, 7 ½ × 9 ½ in. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Jefferson Papers, N-303/352.
Fig. 17: Benjamin Latrobe (architect), Sketch for Ground Plan and Elevation, 24 July 1817, ink on paper, 7 ½ × 10 in. Washington, DC, Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Papers, N-304.
- 38 Ibid., p. 15.
- 39 Undated draft of an article for the Richmond Enquirer by Thomas Jefferson. Grizzard 1989, http://xt (...)
17The cornerstone for the first pavilion was laid on 6 October 1817.38 Jefferson’s original sketches for the college included eight pavilions, although the model could be expanded. He explained the merits of this arrangement as having “the great convenience of admitting building after building to be erected successively as their funds come in, and as their professorships are subdivided.”39 It was a much better approach, in his opinion, than designing a single large building that would be difficult to add onto as the college grew. Jefferson continues on to describe his preference for the open plan in a letter to Dr William Thornton:
- 40 Jefferson 1975, p. 333.
The advantages of the plan are: greater security against fire and infection; tranquility and comfort to the professors and family insulated; retirement to the students; and the admission of enlargement to any degree to which the institution may extend in future times.40
- 41 Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. 24.
18By 19 February 1818, Jefferson’s bill to make Central College the primary institution for the State of Virginia was approved, and the name of the school was consequently changed to the University of Virginia.41 And just as Jefferson had predicted, as plans for the professors invited to teach various departments within the university expanded, two more pavilions were added to the design. This further elongated the composition of the university, making it more similar to the number of pavilions at Marly. In a Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, which dates 4 August 1818, Jefferson describes his ideal arrangement for the plan of the university:
- 42 Jefferson 1975, p. 334.
The Board is of the opinion that it [the university] should consist of distinct houses or pavilions, arranged at a proper breadth, and of infinite extent, in one direction, at least; in each of which should be a lecturing room, with from two or four apartments, for the accommodation of a professor and his family; that these pavilions should be united by a range of dormitories […] and that a passage of some kind, under cover of the weather, should give a communication along the whole range.42
19The south end of the lawn, facing the Blue Ridge Mountains, was left open to take advantage of the view, as well as allowing for the opportunity for the university to be infinitely expanded upon as mentioned by Jefferson. In reality, the steep hill on the southern end of the lawn made any elongation of the plan impossible. The placement of the buildings on top of a hill was far more idealistic than practical, but it gave the university a sense of prominence. The final form of the lawn under Jefferson’s guidance was formed of ten pavilions, five on the east and five to the west, with the Rotunda capping off the north end (fig. 18–19). Fifty-four student rooms were situated in between the ten pavilions. The pavilions served as classrooms, as well as dwellings where the professors and their families resided.
Fig. 18: John Neilson (draughtsman); Peter Maverick (engraver), University of Virginia, Ground Plan, 1825, engraving, 21 ⅞ × 19 ½ in. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Jefferson Papers, N-385.
Fig. 19: Edward Sachse (draftsman), View of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville and Monticello, taken from Lewis Mountain, 1856, lithograph, 68 × 46 cm. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Broadside 1920.B64.
20Jefferson mentioned his visits to Marly in letters, but he made no direct reference to it as a source of influence. Considering the extensive amount of correspondence and documentation that Jefferson kept, it is surprising that there is no mention of the layout of Marly, or his impressions of the design. While the similarities between the two complexes are undeniable, it is difficult to assert the importance Marly had in shaping Jefferson’s ideas without documented evidence. The lack of written evidence, although detrimental to making any conclusive connections between the two projects, does not rule out the possibility that Jefferson had the Château de Marly in mind when designing the University of Virginia.
- 43 Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. 33.
- 44 Allen 1990, p. 8.
21Jefferson was occasionally criticized for his love of French culture — a dangerous affiliation that would have been frowned upon in a nation that had newly won its independence — so he might have wanted to keep any foreign sources of inspiration for his public institution hidden for political reasons. Another example of Jefferson hiding his source of influence for the University of Virginia because of political reasons can be seen in a drawing for the Rotunda, or central pavilion in the design of the University. In the upper right-hand corner of the drawing, the word “Latrobe,” referring the to architect Benjamin Latrobe — who Jefferson often consulted for advice, is crossed out so that the name is no longer legible (fig. 20).43 In November 1817, around the same time construction began for the university, Latrobe resigned from his position as the second architect for the United States Capitol. He did not resign on good terms, but had left over disputes on the rising cost and slow progress of the Capitol’s restoration.44 Thus, any new projects associated with Latrobe’s name would not likely have garnered much support at the time, and supports the theory of why Jefferson might have removed Latrobe’s name from the drawing.
Fig. 20: Thomas Jefferson (architect), Elevation of the Rotunda, 1818–1819, prickling, scoring, iron-gall ink on laid paper engraved with coordinate lines, 8 ¾ × 8 ¾ in. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Jefferson Papers, N-328.
- 45 Mabille, Benech and Castelluccio 1998, p. 9.
22Jefferson associated much symbolic meaning to his designs. Because he wanted to establish a public university without any religious affiliations, it stands to reason that he would have preferred to draw from non-secular building types as a model for his university, thus making Marly as a source of inspiration more plausible. The siting of Marly displays similar characteristics that Jefferson looked for when choosing the sites for his own designs. Both placed an emphasis on secluded areas with a view. The central pavilion at Marly and the Rotunda at the University of Virginia both dominate in scale over the surrounding buildings. They were both placed at the centre of the plan and held the greatest structural importance. The arrangement of the twelve pavilions linked by arbours at Marly, much like the colonnades linking the pavilions at the University of Virginia, is the most striking similarity between the two projects.45
- 46 Dams and Zega 1995, p. 57.
- 47 Hogan 1987, p. 95.
- 48 Ibid., p. 54.
23Looking at the details of the two projects reveals even more similarities. The designs of the pavilion facades at Marly had alternating elements, with no two exactly alike.46 Jefferson suggested a model of variation for his own pavilions, which would provide a learning opportunity for the students who attended the University of Virginia, by being exposed to the range of architectural styles and classical orders (Annex 1). Instead of reinforcing the iconography of the king, the variety of facades served as educational tools that demonstrated different styles of classical architecture. He based his designs for the facades of pavilions on drawings by Palladio and Fréart de Chambray. For example, Pavilion I uses the Doric order of Diocletian’s Baths in Rome,47 and Pavilion VI is modelled after “the Ionic of the Theatre of Marcellus from Chambray.”48
Fig. 21: Thomas Jefferson (architect), pavilion doors, University of Virginia, 2012.
© Michelle Benoit/2012
Fig. 22: Thomas Jefferson (architect), wood graining on pavilion doors, University of Virginia, 2012.
© Michelle Benoit/2012
24The detailing and materials of the pavilions themselves are another point of comparison between Marly and the University of Virginia. The budget and availability of materials to reconstruct Jefferson’s classical pavilions was limited, so he disguised some of his materials to give off a grander appearance. This is not unlike the facades of the Château de Marly, which were painted with faux architectural details. The doors of the pavilions at the University of Virginia are made of solid pine, a fine material by today’s standards, but were painted with false graining to look like mahogany (fig. 21–22).49 In addition, the columns that run along the porticos are masonry covered with stucco, and finished with a layer of paint mixed with sand, to make the columns appear to be limestone (fig. 23). Jefferson’s exposure to the use of faux materials could have been influenced by his travels abroad, especially his visit to Marly. An eighteenth-century French encyclopaedia explains the concept of “imitation architecture,” or architecture feinte, in which the Château de Marly comprises the very definition of the word:
- 50 Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, Tome I (1751) cited in (...)
All plans, projections and reliefs of a real architecture simply through the use of color, such as can be seen on several facades in Italy and on the twelve pavilions of the Château de Marly; or for the decorations of theaters and triumphal arches painted on canvas or wood [...].50
Fig. 23: Thomas Jefferson (architect), colonnade connecting the pavilions on the lawn, University of Virginia, 2012.
© Michelle Benoit/2012
25Jefferson’s use of imitation architecture is often overlooked, and the faux materials are accepted for the real thing. He did not intend for his pavilions to be imitations, but serious representations of classical architecture. His pavilions were not follies built for the elite, but were established for educational purposes. Yet, despite Jefferson’s best intentions, he could not escape the fact that the materials he used were imitations. The spectacle continues even today. The faux materials, such as the mahogany doors, are continually repainted to play along with the “imitation architecture” that was employed by Jefferson.
26There are other features of the building that are often cited as direct influences of Marly, that are in fact a result of mere coincidence. For example, the fact that the buildings on the lawn of the University of Virginia and Marly share similar proportions in their layout is a result of site restrictions, and does not reflect Jefferson’s original design intent. While the proportions of the two projects might have been similar, the scale was not. The overall composition of Marly was at least twice the size of the University of Virginia (fig. 24).
Fig. 24: Comparison of the scale of Marly and University of Virginia, 2012. Google Earth Image.
University of Virginia on the left and Marly on the right.
Left: Imagery © 2013 Commonwealth of Virginia, Digital Globe, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data © 2013 Google. Right: Imagery © 2013 Aerodata International Surveys, Cnes/Spot Image, Digital Globe, IGN-France, Landsat, The GeoInformation Group / Inter Atlas, Map data © 2013 Google
27Finally, there are features of the two buildings that are symbolically opposite. The sequence in which the arrangement of buildings were meant to be viewed was entirely different in the two projects. The Château de Marly would likely have been entered from the southern or closed end of the arranged buildings, where the central pavilion was located. Jefferson had a specific idea of how the lawn should be approached. He also intended visitors to enter the lawn from the south, but unlike the south lawn of Marly, the south end of the University of Virginia was the open end of the lawn. This meant that the visitor’s first view of the university would encompass the entire complex — including all of the pavilions, lawn, and the Rotunda sitting prominently at the centre — and not just the central pavilion.
- 51 Wilson, Lasala and Sherwood 2009, p. 18.
28The central building at Marly was meant to assert the superiority of the king, while the Rotunda had a more democratic relationship with its pavilions. The Rotunda represented a dome of the enlightenment, emphasizing that that ideas formed the heart of the University. The library at the University of Virginia, located on the top floor of the Rotunda, formed the centre of the lawn and was a place where everyone was welcome to come and learn. The design of the Rotunda was not even Jefferson’s own, although he suggested the idea of large, central pavilion.51 Instead it was a suggestion from Latrobe — which further adds to the complexity of sources that influenced in the final form of the University of Virginia.
- 52 The Giacomo Leoni edition of Palladio provides the same spelling of the word Rotunda as used by Jef (...)
29A less often addressed characteristic of Marly that Jefferson may have adapted from the château, is his use of the word pavilion. The naming of pieces of architecture was an important component of Jefferson’s designs. He often used foreign terms to impart a sense of grandeur and sophistication to his designs. Jefferson referred to his home as Monticello, which is Italian for “little hill.” The simple difference between the translations makes a world of difference. “Little hill” is rather plain, but its Italian equivalent is elegant and refined. Another example is the naming of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Jefferson likely came across the use of the word rotunda when studying one of his favourite buildings, the Pantheon in Rome, in Andrea Palladio’s The Four Books of Architecture (fig. 25). The Leoni edition of Palladio, Jefferson’s favourite, refers to the building as “the Pantheon, now call’d the Rotonda.”52 His choice of the word rotunda is a clear reference to the Pantheon, and creates a link to the distinguished building.
Fig. 25: Andrea Palladio (architect); designed by Giacomo Leoni, “Half of the fore-front” (plate LVI) and “Half of the front under the Portico” (plate LVII), 1742, book 4, chapter 20, The Architecture of A. Palladio in Four Books, 3rd edition, engraving, 24 x 18 in. Charlottesville, University of Virginia, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Rare Books Division, Folio NA2517 .P3 1742.
- 53 All of the eigtheenth-century definitions of the word pavilion were taken from French-English dicti (...)
- 54 Miege 1750, “pavilion.”
- 55 Boyer 1751, “pavilion.”
- 56 Boyer 1752, “pavilion.”
30Thus, Jefferson’s choice to use the word pavilion also had important implications. In the eighteenth century, pavilion was still very much a French word, an association Jefferson would have been well aware of. To understand how the word was used in Jefferson’s time, it is necessary to consult dictionaries from that era, which demonstrate an evolving English language comprehension of the word.53 In 1750, Guy Miege defines the word pavilion as “Tent, or Pavillon; a Canopy; a Flag; a Ship that bears the flag; a Tabernacle; a Habitation.”54 A 1751 definition by Abel Boyer reads “pavilion, a sort of Tent; a Tent-bed; a Flag.”55 Just a year later, an updated version of Boyer’s dictionary defines the word as “a tent; the main part of a building or a building by itself.”56 This simple update demonstrates that the English language understanding of the word pavilion as used to refer to a building was still developing in the mid-eighteenth century. Jefferson’s choice of the word pavilion is important to understanding the architecture at the University of Virginia. It shows an attempt to give the architecture prominence by using a word that would have had foreign associations and was a relatively new addition to the English language, whether or not Jefferson intended to create a direct link to the pavilions at Marly.
- 57 Fox 1945, p. 19.
- 58 This comparison has been suggested as early as 1944, by Talbot Halmin. Hamlin 1964, p. 42.
- 59 Foundations for the Nott Memorial Library at Union College, based on Ramée’s 1813 design, were laid (...)
31Between Jefferson’s avid reading, interests in campus and hospital designs, along with a budding interest in botanic gardens, seeming endless comparisons and projects can be cited as a source of inspiration for the University of Virginia. However, there is one other precedent that stands out, which raises some intriguing possibilities for an unnamed source of inspiration (fig. 26). Although there is no written evidence of whether or not Jefferson was familiar with Union College in Schenectady, NY, designed by Joseph Jacques Ramée in 1813, the design is strikingly similar to the University of Virginia.57 Union College has a large circular building at the centre, with wings that spread out from either side. The design for Union College was established before Jefferson’s first sketches for Albemarle Academy in 1814, and could have served as a precedent.58 The problem in asserting Jefferson’s familiarity with the project is that the central building was not completed right away, but was added several years later.59 Jefferson would have had to have seen or heard about the drawing of Union College itself to draw any inspiration from the design. The ultimate source of comparison, then, remains the Château de Marly, because Jefferson’s visit and familiarity with the site can be verified.
Fig. 26: Joseph Jacques Ramée, Detail of “Plan of the grounds surrounding the buildings,” 1813, drawing, 23 × 15 cm. Schenectady, NY, Union College Schaffer Library Special Collections, Pearson no. 27.
There are undeniable similarities in the architectural scheme of the Château de Marly and the University of Virginia. In the end, many of the similarities can be attributed to mere coincidence. But Marly as a source of influence for the University of Virginia cannot be entirely dismissed. It is the unprecedented arrangement of facing buildings connected by arcades at Marly, in combination with the use of the word pavilion, that seems to most strongly demonstrate the influence Marly had on Jefferson’s design of the University of Virginia. For a structure so often described as one the greatest achievements in American architecture, the allure of identifying the ultimate source of Jefferson’s inspiration will always be a point of intrigue. One can only keep guessing at the genius of the design that makes the University of Virginia so unique, and what other projects ultimately influenced Jefferson’s ideas for a new model of education.