Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by purchase to James Barclay; by purchase to Uriah P. Levy; by descent to Jefferson Monroe Levy; by purchase to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1923
Accession Number: 1923-18-1
Historical Notes: Four mirrors, believed to be two different pairs, were shipped from France in 1790 in case number forty-eight, described as "quatre glaces avec parquet et bordure duré."1 The smaller, round-headed pair was separated at Monticello. One mirror was hung opposite the window in Jefferson's Bedroom (this mirror is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Carter) and the second in the Dining Room above a sideboard (both mirror and sideboard are unlocated).
The larger rectangular pair was installed in the Parlor, flanking the double-acting doors to the Entrance Hall, sometime before 1809. Jefferson noted that he had two mirrors greater than five feet high on his 1815 list of taxable property.2 The design of the mirrors consists of a central glass, made of two plates, surrounded by a border of smaller rectangular mirrors. The joints are concealed by molding. A visitor reported that she saw them in 1830 after the family had departed:
There was no furniture in the room, with the exception of two massy pier glasses attached to the [partition], one on each side of the opening into the round parlor. They were covered with gauze and nearly the size of those in the east room, but much better stuff–they go with the free hold.3
Since their installation, the mirrors have been taken down only once, exposing two brick niches remaining from the first Monticello.
The French were capable of producing large sheets of glass by the middle of the eighteenth century, and they were the first to enhance interiors with large mirrors to reflect daylight and candlelight. Jefferson admired what he had seen in France and incorporated more and larger windows in his scheme for the revised Monticello. Adding pier mirrors to create a lighter interior was an important part of his plan.
1. 1790 Packing List, William Short Papers, Library of Congress. See also the editorial note following Short to Jefferson, November 7, 1790, in PTJ, 18:37n. Editorial note available at Founders Online.