Dome Room

Monticello's Dome Room

View Room Panorama

Dimensions: 28' - 2" x 25' - 3";

Color: Walls are Mars yellow in distemper paint with calcium carbonate added. Floor: oil-based green paint.  

Source: Courtyard of the Temple of Nerva Trajan as depicted in plate 15, Book 4 from Giacomo Leoni edition of The Four Books of The Architecture by A. Palladio

Although quite beautiful with its large circular windows and oculus skylight, the function of the Dome Room is not completely understood. The only known long-term occupants were Jefferson's grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph and his bride, Jane Hollins Nicholas, who lived in the room for a number of months starting in 1815. By Jefferson's death, if not before, the room had become primarily a storage area.

Primary Source References

1807 April 18. (Jefferson to Richard Barry). "As the most important work you have to do here is to finish the floor of the hall and to paint the floor of the Dome room exactly in the same way." [1] 

1809 August. (Margaret Bayard Smith). "We looked into a beautiful and circular room in the dome--it is 26 or 27 feet diameter--has eight circular windows and a handsome sky-light. It was designed for a lady's drawing-room when built, but soon found, on account of its situation in the dome, to be too inconvenient for that use, and was abandoned to miscellaneous purposes." [2]  

1809 August. (Margaret Bayard Smith). "He [Jefferson] afterwards took us to the drawing room, 26 or 7 feet diameter, in the dome. It is a noble and beautiful apartment, with eight circular windows and a sky-light. It was not furnished and being in the attic story is not used, which I thought a great pit as it might be made the most beautiful room in the house." [3]

1812 March 16. (Jefferson to Henry Foxall). "I have a large dome room of 24. f. diam. which needs a stove, but a large one." [4]

1819 July 18. (Cornelia Jefferson Randolph to Virginia Jefferson Randolph Trist). "I will not ask you to make a great search for it [part of a pencil] and think it is in the dome if some of the young gentlemen have nor recognized it as their own, and taken it." [5]

1819 July 28. (Cornelia Jefferson Randolph to Virginia Jefferson Randolph Trist). "I made apologies to you about giving you so many commissions because I knew you sometimes would sooner die than drag yourself up into the dome where you would have to go to execute most of my commissions." [6]

1823 June 5. (Virginia Jefferson Randolph Trist to Nicholas Philip Trist). "I have never told you of the nice little cuddy that has become my haunt, and from which I am now writing. Do you recollect the place over the parlour's Portico into which the dome room opened? Since the columns to the portico have been completed, Grand-Papa has had the great work bench removed from it, and a floor layed. Corneilia's ingenuity in conjunction with mine formed steps from the dome into this little closet with a pile of boxes, and having furnished this apartment with a sopha to lounge upon, though alas! without cushions, a high and low chair and two small tables, one for my writing desk, the other for my books; and breathing through a broken pane of glass and some wide cracks in the floor; I have taken possession with the dirt daubers, wasps and humble bees; and do not intend to give it up to any thing but the formible rats which have not yet found out this fairy palace." [7]

Footnotes

1.  Massachusetts Historical Society

2. Richmond Enquirer. 18 January 1823.

3. Hunt, Gaillard S., ed. The First Forty Years of Washington Society: Portrayed by the Family Letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith (Margaret Bayard) from the Collection of her Grandson, J. Henley Smith. New York: Scribner, 1906, 71.

4.  Massachusetts Historical Society

5. Nicholas Philip Trist Papers. University of North Carolina

6. Ibid.

7. Papers of Nichols P. Trist. Library of Congress

Further Sources

Discussion

says

In my visits to Monticello I have been lucky enough to experience the dome room. With its echo-chamber acoustics and over-sized baseboards, devoid of any furniture, it feels to be right out of Alice and Wonderland rather than American history. Cinder Stanton, Monticello's Senior Research Historian, suggests that Jefferson might have used this room as his panopticon, where with the aid of his telescope, he could keep an eye on everything, including his slaves. With Jeremy Bentham’s 18th Century book “Panopticon” in his collection and two former slaves noting his use of the telescope, it is a sinister yet plausible interpretation. Whatever its original usage, it is a truly marvelous and unique architectural flourish today.

says

The Dome Room at Monticello is fantastic for many reasons. Up there, the "cuddy" where some of Jefferson's granddaughters used to hide away for some privacy is one of my favorite parts of that space. When I first heard about the granddaughters setting up camp in the cuddy, I assumed it was when they were girls. But they were young women when they used to enjoy a little peace and quiet up there.

says

Two young women seek privacy at overcrowded Monticello.

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