How Thomas Jefferson Learned Architecture

How thomas jefferson learned architecture
The University of Virginia campus at Charlottesville, designed in the early 1800s by Thomas Jefferson / Photo: Filippo Romano

Perhaps the most bizarre bit of business in the multimedia exhibition “Jefferson and Palladio: Constructing a New World” is a video of an imaginary confrontation between Thomas Jefferson and Andrea Palladio, depicted as silhouettes.

At one point, Palladio, the Italian architect, who died in 1580, chides Jefferson, the American architect and statesman, who died in 1826, for never traveling to the Veneto region of Italy during his European migrations to see firsthand the villas that so influenced his designs and, consequently, American public architecture.

For Jefferson, who professed that Palladio’s magna opera, “The Four Books on Architecture,” was his “bible” (he owned five editions of the architectural treatise), the snub of Palladio’s home turf could appear perplexing. Jefferson did visit nearby Lombardy, where he was struck by the quality of the rice, as well as Piedmont, where, according to his travel notes, he appreciated the local wines.

But for Guido Beltramini, director of the Palladio Museum in Vicenza and a curator of the exhibition, which runs through the end of March, Palladio was solely the conduit for Jefferson’s vision of a new world built on the twin pillars of reason and beauty. […]