Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Art History

First Advisor

Charles Brownell


Sweet Briar House is one of the best documented sites in Virginia, with sources ranging from architectural drawings and extensive archives to original furnishings. Sweet Briar House was purchased by Elijah Fletcher, a prominent figure in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1830. Thirty years later it passed into the possession of his daughter Indiana Fletcher Williams, and remained her home until her death in 1900. In her will, Williams left instructions for the founding of Sweet Briar Institute, an educational institution for women that exists today as Sweet Briar College. This dissertation examines Sweet Briar House in three distinct phases, while advancing three theses. The first thesis proposes that the double portico motif introduced by Palladio at the Villa Cornaro in the sixteenth century became the fundamental motif of Palladianism in Virginia architecture, generating a line of offspring that proliferated in the eighteenth century and beyond. The Palladian plantation (Sweet Briar House I, c. 1800) featured this double portico. In 1851, following the return of the Fletcher children from an extended Grand Tour of Europe, the house was remodeled as an Italianate villa (Sweet Briar House II, 1851-52). The second thesis advances the contention that by renovating their Palladian house into an asymmetrical Italianate villa, the Fletcher family implemented an ideal solution between the balanced façade that characterized the Palladian Sweet Briar House I and the fashion for the Picturesque that dominated American building in the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1876, the Williams family traveled to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, where visitors were presented with an unimaginable array of artistic possibilities from countless eras and nations, exactly the conditions that the Aesthetic Movement needed to flourish in America. The third thesis maintains that the Williams family’s decision to transform Sweet Briar House into an Aesthetic Movement retreat was inspired by their reaction to the Centennial, and in particular by their appreciation for the Japanese objects presented there.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2010