Doctor of Philosophy
Richard Guy Wilson
This dissertation examines six major points: 1) it argues that Jefferson is an architect of the United States Capitol, having direct and final say over its design; 2) it asserts that Jefferson set two nationally influential models of architectural taste as part of his movement to reform American architecture, first in Richmond as the Virginia State Capitol and second in Washington as the United States Capitol; 3) it explores those models to define what Jefferson called “cubic” and “spherical” architecture; 4) it suggests that Jefferson used his political appointments to maximize his influence over the design of the United States Capitol in order to ground the building in classical sources; 5) it surveys the sources Jefferson looked to for inspiration, both printed texts and images as well as extant buildings in Europe and America; and 6) it proposes that Jefferson and B. Henry Latrobe worked hand in hand to execute a design for the United States Capitol that subdued and at times even replaced the official plan adopted from William Thornton’s winning design.
This dissertation starts with the idea that Jefferson’s architectural reform consisted of conjoining vernacular building custom with architecture of the classical tradition. Most of what Jefferson knew about classical architecture came from books. Chief among them are Claude Perrault’s 1684 French translation of Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture and the three London editions of Giacomo Leoni’s versions of Andrea Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture in English translation. Using these print sources, Jefferson reinterpreted many of the standard public buildings of Virginia into temple forms. In addition, Jefferson’s plan to reform public architecture rested on two overriding principles: erecting buildings with masonry and organizing those buildings using the classical orders.
Furthermore, this dissertation proves that, like the ancients, Jefferson wanted to build on a monumental scale. Jefferson’s own plan for a national capitol shaped like the Roman Pantheon, long misunderstood, clearly reinforces this interpretation. Finally, this dissertation demonstrates that Jefferson and B. Henry Latrobe worked in concert to execute a design for the United States Capitol that subdued the official plan adopted from William Thornton’s winning design.
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VCU Theses and Dissertations
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Available for download on Monday, May 05, 2025