The Chrysler Museum of Art to Explore the Architectural Design Practices and Conflicting Ideals of Thomas Jefferson
NORFOLK, Va. (April 18, 2019) – Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence. The most important architectural thinker of the young American republic, Jefferson conveyed ideals of liberty and democracy in his designs. He was also a slave owner. On view Oct. 19, 2019–Jan. 19, 2020, a new exhibition from the Chrysler Museum of Art titled Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles and the Conflict of Ideals will explore this divergence alongside his extraordinary architectural influence.
Organized by the Chrysler Museum of Art in collaboration with the Palladio Museum in Vicenza, Italy, this exhibition will focus on the ideas, formation and key monuments of the Founding Father who dramatically influenced the architectural profile of the young republic. It will also confront the inherent conflict between Jefferson’s pursuit of contemporary ideals of liberty and democracy and his use of slave labor to construct his monuments.
The Chrysler Museum’s exhibition will follow Jefferson’s evolution as an architect with nearly 130 objects, including models, rare books, paintings, drawings, early photographs and architectural elements. Visitors will 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 will provide 14 models, including 10 newly created models of Jefferson’s buildings and four models displaying the key architecture of Renaissance master Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). The exhibition will feature 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 will highlight its architectural influence on the University of Virginia’s Rotunda. The Chrysler will also display the only autographed drawing by Palladio in an American collection as well as various editions of his treatise, The Four Books of Architecture.
Visitors will 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 enslaved and formerly enslaved people who can be linked directly to Jefferson and his buildings. These include Isaac Granger Jefferson, an artisan who was a tinsmith and blacksmith and labored in the nailery as an enslaved worker at Jefferson’s Monticello.
“Thomas Jefferson engaged with the most advanced ideas of architecture and city planning of his era. He was also a slave owner who failed to resolve his ideals about freedom and democracy with his reliance upon the institution of slavery. We will examine these facets of Jefferson’s architectural formation and practice to foster a new and fuller understanding of his accomplishments,” said Museum Director Erik H. Neil.
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 Palladio. He pursued forms that were both aesthetic models and expressive of the new republic’s democratic ideals. He employed those influences 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.
“For both Jefferson and Palladio, the architecture of the ancients was the key model with regard to functionality, style and meaning,” Neil said. “We see evidence of Thomas Jefferson’s influence in the architecture throughout our region, and we are excited to share the history and influence of these designs with our visitors to present important elements of Virginia’s history.”
A richly illustrated catalog published by Yale University Press will accompany the exhibition. A team of leading international scholars will offer new scholarship and a fresh appraisal of Jefferson’s formation and career as an architect, engage the impact and legacy of his status as a slave owner and highlight the work and contributions of enslaved laborers and artisans. Contributors include Lloyd DeWitt, Ph.D., the Chrysler Museum’s chief curator and Irene Leache curator of European art; Howard Burns, president of the Centro Palladio, Scuola Normale Pisa; Guido Beltramini, director of the Palladio Museum; Richard Guy Wilson and Louis P. Nelson, both from the University of Virginia; and Barry Bergdoll and Mabel O. Wilson of Columbia University.
Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles and the Conflict of Ideals is curated by the Chrysler Museum’s Erik Neil, Ph.D., director; Lloyd DeWitt, Ph.D., chief curator and Irene Leache curator of European art; and Corey Piper, Ph.D., Brock curator of American art.
Dominion Energy is the presenting sponsor for Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles and the Conflict of Ideals.
The exhibition and catalog have been realized with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Norfolk Society of Arts, Wyeth Foundation for American Art and U.S. Embassy of Italy.
Mabel O. Wilson and Louis P. Nelson in Conversation
Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019
2 p.m. | Free
Renowned scholars Mabel O. Wilson and Louis P. Nelson will discuss the contributions and legacy of enslaved craftsman on the architecture of Thomas Jefferson. Wilson is a professor of architectural design at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Research in African American Studies and co-directs Global Africa Lab. Nelson is the Vice Provost for Academic Outreach and Professor of Architectural History at the University of Virginia. Register at chrysler.org.
Dream It, Build it!
Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020
10 a.m.–2 p.m. | Free
If you can dream it, you can build it! Thomas Jefferson, Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principles and the Conflict of Ideals is the inspiration for this day devoted to building and creating. Children of all ages and their adults are invited to learn, play and build. Create a castle out of blocks, design a tower out of LEGO blocks or draw your own fantasy city. Registration is recommended at chrysler.org.
ABOUT THE CHRYSLER MUSEUM OF ART
The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. In the years since Chrysler’s death in 1988, the Museum has dramatically enhanced its collection and extended its ties with the Norfolk community. The Museum has growing collections in many areas. The Chrysler also mounts an ambitious schedule of exhibitions and educational programs and events each season.
In 2011, the Chrysler opened the Perry Glass Studio adjacent to the Museum. This state-of-the-art, working facility offers programming for aspiring and master artists alike in a variety of processes including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking, and neon. The Studio also has earned a reputation for its cutting-edge performance evenings that mix live glassmaking with visual, musical, culinary and performing arts. The Perry Glass Studio recently was the site of the prestigious 2017 Glass Art Society Conference.
In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers two historic houses in downtown Norfolk: the Moses Myers House and the Willoughby-Baylor House.
The Chrysler Museum of Art, One Memorial Place, Norfolk, and its Perry Glass Studio at 745 Duke St. are open to the public Tuesday–Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The Historic Houses on East Freemason Street are open weekends. General admission is free at all venues. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit chrysler.org.
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