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North Square Room
Dimensions: 14' 10" × 15' 4"; ceiling 10' 0"
Source: Palladio, based on the Arena of Verona
Color: Originally yellow, then wall-papered; today shown as unpainted plaster
Purpose of Room: Bedroom, used frequently by the Portuguese scholar Abbé José Correia da Serra
Architectural Features: Alcove bed with a closet overhead; interior window shutters, used throughout the first floor for privacy and insulation
Furnishings of Note: Today the room holds a life portrait of the Abbé by Rembrandt Peale as well as a portrait of Martha Jefferson Randolph by Thomas Sully.
The damask drapery curtains and bedspread are reproductions meant to represent the blue damask that Thomas Jefferson acquired while living in Paris in the 1780s. According to Jefferson's memorandum book entries and the Grevin packing list, he purchased large quantities of crimson and "bleu" silk damask for curtains between 1784 and 1789 and shipped them to America in 1790.1 The different suites of French curtains were probably used first in the public rooms of Monticello and in Jefferson's Bedchamber. Later, as Jefferson obtained new curtains for those rooms (such as Parlor draperies from John Rea in 1808 and dimity for the Dining Room, ca. 1803), the older yet still valuable damasks were probably cut and fitted for use in other rooms.
According to the 1815 list of taxable property, Jefferson still had "11. pr window curtains. foreign" in that year.2 The exact location of these curtains is not known, but it is likely that the damask descended through the hierarchy of rooms: after the public rooms, the guest bedrooms on the first floor were the next likely spot. None of Jefferson's silk damask fabric is known to survive. In 1992, when new curtains were needed for the North Square Room and there was a need to represent the "11. pr window curtains. foreign" somewhere in the house, a decision was made to furnish this room with blue silk damask from France. The refurbishment of the North Square Room as the Abbé Correia da Serra's room was underwritten by a grant from the Luso-American Development Foundation. The design for the drapery curtains with valances was taken from an undated Jefferson sketch.3 It is not known for what room Jefferson made this sketch, or what fabric he had in mind when he did the drawing. The proportions of the windows, however, are about the same as those of the first floor square or octagon rooms.
A typical French floral damask pattern of the 1780s was chosen for the reproduction draperies. It was woven by the firm Tassinari & Chatel of Paris and Lyons, one of the oldest French silk manufacturers still in existence. An appropriate "bleu" color was selected, based upon a range of 18th-century blue silks examined at Colonial Williamsburg. Fifty-five meters of this fabric were ordered in 1993. A matching lining fabric was obtained from Brunschwig & Fils. The lining is blue rayon taffeta – less expensive than the silk that was probably on the originals and more durable as well. Jefferson's curtain sketch shows fringe at the base of the valance and three tassels – one at the center of the valance, and one on either side at the base of the curtains. A blue cut fringe, in cotton, was selected from the Scalamandré line. Matching tassels were found at the passementerie company Houlès U.S.A.
The window treatments were made in 1993 by Natalie F. Larson, Historic Textile Reproductions, Williamsburg, Virginia. Jefferson's curtain sketch is vague in many of the details. Ms. Larson studied other period curtains of this type, as well as textile cutting manuals, for more clues as to how such curtains would have been constructed. It is not clear, for example, if Jefferson's curtains hung on a rod or were tacked in place. As we had no conclusive evidence for curtain rods, the reproduction curtains and valance are tacked to a tack strip. The curtains might also have drawn up "drapery fashion," or Jefferson may be showing tied-back curtains. Again, due to lack of hardware evidence, we chose to represent this drawing as drapery-style curtains. O-rings are attached to the back of the curtains and a cord passes through them to draw them up. Instead of adding cloak pins to tie off the drapery cords, these cords are tied off at the uppermost ring – not a period method, but they look correct from the front and do not disturb the original woodwork around the windows.
Objects on Display in This Room
- 1. See, e.g., MB, 1:578. For Jefferson's shipments, see Grevin packing list, July 17, 1790, William Short Papers, Library of Congress. See also the editorial note following Short to Jefferson, November 7, 1790, in PTJ, 18:36n. Editorial note available at Founders Online.
- 2. Statement of Albemarle County Property Subject to State Tax, March 1815, in PTJ:RS, 8:393. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 3. Monticello: curtains, [1803 or earlier], by Thomas Jefferson, N147g; K149g [electronic edition], Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003).