Parlor facing west


Dimensions: 27' 3" × 23' 8"; ceiling 18' 2"

Order: Corinthian

Source: Palladio, with frieze from the Temple of Jupiter Tonans (Thunderer), from Desgodetz, Les Edifices Antiques de Rome

Color: Unpainted plaster, with a Thomas Jefferson-designed parquet floor of cherry and beech

Purpose of Room: Games, music, reading, and social activity. The room displayed much of Jefferson's art collection and was the site of weddings, dances, and christenings.

Architectural features: Parquet floor, automatic double-doors[1]

Furnishings of Note: Artwork, with paintings hung in tiers. Jefferson's inventory, presumably made in 1809, lists for this room: "Portraits - 24; Paintings - 17; Medals - 10; Busts - 2; Miscellaneous - 4." Among the portraits were represented key figures in Jefferson's thinking and in American and world history. Jefferson displayed portraits of the "three greatest men that have ever lived" – John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Francis Bacon – as well as discoverers such as Columbus and Magellan, and American notables such as Washington, Franklin, and Madison.[2]The room held many chairs of varying designs, including several acquired in France and upholstered in crimson damask. The room contained several other chairs and sofas of varying styles, purchased elsewhere or made in the Monticello Joiner's Shop. Jefferson called Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton and Sir John Locke his "trinity of the three greatest men the world has ever produced."

Portraits of Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton and John Locke

Several tables for cards or other amusements were in the room, as well as musical instruments such as a harpsichord and pianoforte. Two gilded pier mirrors enhanced the light in the room, and the curtains on the windows were made from Jefferson's sketches.[3]Anchor

Objects on Display in this Room

Alexander I (Sculpture)
Americus Vespucius (Painting)
Benjamin Franklin (Painting)
Camera Obscura
Christopher Columbus (Painting)
David Rittenhouse (Engraving)
Descent from the Cross (Painting)
Edward Preble (Medals & Medallions)
English Guitar
Fauteuil en Cabriolet
George Washington (Painting)
George Washington by Eccleston (Medals & Medallions)
Herodias Bearing the Head of St. John the Baptist (Painting)
Hope with Cupid (Sculpture)
James Monroe (Engraving)
Jefferson Portrait by John Trumbull (Painting)
Jefferson Portrait by Mather Brown (Painting)
John Adams (Painting)
John Locke (Painting)
Louis XV Chimney Sconces
Louis XVI (Engraving)
Marquis de Lafayette (Painting)
Napoleon Bonaparte (Sculpture)
Ornamental Circular Card Table
Perspective Glass
Pier Mirror
Sir Walter Raleigh (Painting)
Tall Easy Chair
Thaddeus Kosciuszko (Engraving)
The Penitent Magdalen (Painting)
Thomas Jefferson Randolph (Painting)
Thomas Paine (Painting)
Universal Table
Venus with Cupid (Sculpture)Anchor

Primary Source References

1796. (Isaac Weld). "In the center is another spacious apartment, of an octagon form, reaching from the front to the rear of the house, the large folding glass doors of which, at each end, open under a portico."[4]

1782 April 13. (Marquis de Chastellux). "The ground floor consists chiefly of a very large lofty saloon, which is to be decorated entirely in the antique style ...."[5]

1803 August 3. "Pd. Hancock Allen for sawing pine & beach in full 64.66."[6]

1804 September 24. "Work to be done by Mr. Dinsmore ... Parlour & Hall floor ...."[7]

1805 June 26. (Jefferson to James Dinsmore). "I inclose you two specimens of cherry, one done with boiled linseed oil, the other with the newspaper composition you referred to. I think the former the best; but am inclined to believe that daily rubbing with wax will soon produce the same effect. I rather think therefore of leaving the floor to time to give it's proper colour."[8]

1806 September 21. (Anna Maria Thornton). "The floor of the drawing room is laid with Beech and cherry tree woods in a very neat manner, it costs 200$ and the workman said he wou'd not do another like it for 400$."[9]

1814. (Francis Gray). "After half an hour's conversation with Mr. Jefferson and Col. Randolph, we were invited into the parlour where a fire was just kindled and a servant occupied in substituting a wooden pannel for a square of glass, which had been broken in one of the folding doors opening on the lawn. Mr. Jefferson had procured the glass for his house in Bohemia, where the price is so much the square foot whatever be the size of the glass purchased, and these panes were so large that, unable to replace the square in this part of the country, he had been obliged to send to Boston to have some glass made of sufficient size to replace that broken, and this had not yet been received."[10]

1815 February 7. (George Ticknor). "... the drawing room, – a large and rather elegant room, twenty or thirty feet high, – which, with the hall I have described, composed the whole centre of the house, from top to bottom. The floor of this room is tessellated. It is formed of alternate diamonds of cherry and beech, and kept polished as highly as if it were of fine mahogany. Here are the best pictures of the collection. Over the fireplace is the Laughing and Weeping Philosophers, dividing the world between them; on its right, the earliest navigators to America, – Columbus, Americus Vespuccious, Magellan, etc., – copied, Mr. Jefferson said, from originals in the Florence Gallery. Farther round, Mr. Madison in the plain, Quaker-like dress of his youth, Lafayette in his Revolutionary uniform, and Franklin in the dress in which we always see him."[11]

1830 February. (Anne Royall). "But the floor was a great curiosity, done in Mosaic, by Dinsemore & Nelson, it consisted of alternate, very bright brown wood, about ten inches, octagon shape, of a spruce or cherry color: this again was empaled with a narrow strip of white, I should think boxwood, the border is also octagon, and both of ivory smoothness – these are alternately checkered throughout."[12]Anchor

Further Sources

  • Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. A Day in the Life of Thomas Jefferson: "A Delightful Recreation." Discusses family activities in the parlor.

Campeachy ChairAvailable in Our Online Shop: Campeachy Chair


  1. ^ View a short video of the mechanical double doors.
  2. ^ For the "three greatest men," see Jefferson to John Trumbull, February 15, 1789, in PTJ, 14:561. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  3. ^ Jefferson's curtain designs are available online at Architectural Drawings, [manuscript], circa 1772-1819Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003).
  4. ^ Isaac Weld, Jr., Travels Through the States of North America, and the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, During the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797, 2nd ed. (London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1799), 1:207, quoted in Peterson, Visitors, 19.
  5. ^ François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux, Travels in North-America, in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782 (London: Printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1787), 2:42, quoted in Peterson, 11-12.
  6. ^ MB, 2:1105. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  7. ^ Monticello: work memo, September 24, 1804, N147n; K149nThomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003).
  8. ^ Goodspeed Catalogue, Boston: Goodspeed's Book Shop, 1948. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  9. ^ Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton, "Diary," Anna Maria Brodeau Thornton Papers, 1793-1861, Library of Congress.
  10. ^ Francis Calley Gray, Thomas Jefferson in 1814, Being an Account of a Visit to Monticello, Virginia (Boston: The Club of Odd Volumes, 1924), 68-69.
  11. ^ George Ticknor to Elisha Ticknor, February 7, 1815, in Life, Letters and Journals of George Ticknor (Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1876), 1:34-35, quoted in Peterson, Visitors, 62.
  12. ^ Anne Newport Royall, Mrs. Royall's Southern Tour: Or, Second Series of the Black Book (Washington: 1830-31), 89, quoted in Peterson, Visitors, 117.