'Most Roman of the Romanists': Thomas Jefferson's classical taste, 1768-1826
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date18/03/2023
Jordan, Alley Marie
This thesis is about Thomas Jefferson and his classical taste in architecture, ornamented gardens and the locus amoenus. Thomas Jefferson curated a classical world in Virginia, for himself and later for others. He created an oasis of classicism in both thought and architecture, and this thesis explores how and why he did it. Classicism during the eighteenth century was not unique to the American Thomas Jefferson, for classicism spread throughout Western Europe from the Renaissance on and Jefferson was a direct participant in this wider European (especially British) rush to adopt, adapt and possess the ancient Mediterranean. Although Jefferson’s participation in acquiring classical taste was not unique to this American, he did do something unique with classicism: he blended it with the American landscape and thus created an American classicism relevant for an American and, especially, a Virginian. Jefferson brought Arcadia to America and Virgil to Virginia. This thesis puts forth different terms for understanding Jefferson’s classical taste. First, it explores ‘taste’ as an eighteenth-century equivalent of ‘aesthetic’, though with less philosophising. It argues that taste existed as a substitute for liking, interest in, appreciation for. Jefferson’s taste was inextricably linked with the Classics and his taste cannot be understood without the Classics. Next, it uses the Latin term utile dulci as Jefferson’s requirement for taste, which Jefferson infused with Epicureanism. The first aspect of Jefferson explored is his Epicureanism, which he received from different avenues. This chapter explores the depth of Jefferson’s classicism that fuelled his taste. The next chapter is on the villas Monticello and Poplar with their aesthetic connections to Antiquity, the Italian Renaissance and Georgian England. This chapter will illustrate that Monticello was designed as a classical home not only in architecture, but in intent as well. Finally, Jefferson the Father of the University of Virginia will be explored. This chapter argues that Jefferson created the university as a seat of classical and Epicurean learning and will highlight the university’s direct connections to Antiquity. This thesis will paint a portrait of Jefferson seldom seen in his historiography—it will illuminate a side of Jefferson that was creative, imaginative and idealistic. In so doing, this thesis will illustrate the relevance of Classical Reception for American Studies and will displace Jefferson from American History and place him within Classics.