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Monticello Dining Room

Dining Room

Dimensions: 18' 6" × 18' 0"; ceiling 17' 9"

Order: Doric

Source: Palladio

Color: Originally unpainted plaster, then "chrome yellow," then wall-papered, then blue in the post-Jefferson era. Currently the walls are a "chrome yellow" recreated following paint analysis studies.1

Purpose of Room: Dining area

Architectural features: Two sets of window sashes insulate room; double pocket doors on rollers separate the Dining Room from the western-most, and coldest, Tea Room; the Dining Room features one of Monticello's thirteen skylights; wine dumbwaiter on either side of fireplace brought wine up from cellar below; revolving serving door with shelves enabled slaves to move dishes in and out of the room more easily and with fewer intrusions to diners; Wedgwood decoration on fireplace


Objects on Display in This Room

Primary Source References

1802 September 18. (Mrs. William Thornton). "We went thro' a large unfinished hall, loose plank forming the floor, lighted by one dull lantern, into a large room with a small bow and separated by an arch, where the company were seated at tea — no light being in the large part of the room & part of the family being seated there, the appearance was irregular & unpleasant."2

1812. (Eva Miller Nourse). "... a French book was always kept on the mantle-piece in the dining room and, while waiting for the servants to set the table they would read together."3

1814. (Francis Calley Gray). "On looking round the room in which we sat the first thing which attracted our attention was the state of the chairs. They had leather bottoms stuffed with hair, but the bottoms were completely worn through and the hair sticking out in all directions; on the mantle-piece which was large and of marble were many books of all kinds, Livy, Orosius, Edinburg Review, 1 vol. of Edgeworth's Moral Tales, etc., etc. There were many miserable prints and some fine pictures hung round the room, among them two plans for the completion of the Capitol at Washington, one of them very elegant. A harpsichord stood in one corner of the room. There were four double windows from the wall to the floor of fine large glass and a recess in one side of the apartment."4

1820 December 1. (Cornelia Jefferson Randolph to Virginia Jefferson Randolph Trist). "I had all our plants moved into the dining room before I left home and yours along with them. I hope they may be able to bear this bitter cold weather."5

1826. (Elizabeth Lindsay Gordon). "She said she had observed that there was always a volume of some sort on the mantle-shelf of the dining-room at Monticello, from which, whenever she entered the room at meal times, she almost always found him reading, while he stood near the fire-place, waiting for family and guests to assemble."6

1827 July 29. (Mary Jefferson Randolph to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "[O]ne plan that Virginia suggested ... live entirely on the first floor which might be made to accomodate us but would not admit of guests ... we might use the dining room as a bedroom. & breakfast and dine in the hall ...."7

1828 November 26. (Virginia Jefferson Randolph Trist to Nicholas Philip Trist). "I have dined at table for several days, and have taken my breakfast in the dining room twice ...."8

Further Sources

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Divider. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

Artist/Maker: Unknown

Created: early 19th century

Origin/Purchase: possibly England

Materials: brass

Dimensions: L: 11.1 (4 3/8 in.)

Location: Monticello Visitor Center

Owner: Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Accession Number: 1927-34-4

Historical Notes: Over the course of his life, Jefferson made hundreds of drawings, ranging from rather wobbly freehand sketches to measured drawings on coordinate paper. He drew plats, maps, city plans, garden designs, and furniture, as well as sections, elevations, and floor plans for numerous buildings.9 He may have learned the rudiments of drafting from his father, the surveyor and mapmaker Peter Jefferson. Upon his father's death Jefferson inherited his mathematical instruments, which certainly included the tools for drawing maps and plats.10

As with scientific instruments, Jefferson preferred English-made drawing instruments. His first recorded purchases are from London firms in 1786.11 As late as 1806, Jefferson purchased drawing instruments from the same merchants with whom he first became acquainted in 1786, William & Samuel Jones.12

Jefferson likely used the divider and other instruments to make measured drawings, which were usually architectural. Recent studies of Jefferson's drawings reveal two techniques that he employed: pricking and scoring. Using a "pricker," a sharp pinlike object, Jefferson punctured sets of points in his drawings. These may have been used to lay out a new drawing or copy an existing one. Scoring employed a small, blunt tool called a scorer or tracer, to make indentations in paper that later could be filled in with ink or graphite.13

Prior to 1784, when Jefferson arrived in France, most if not all of his drawings were made in ink. In Paris, Jefferson began to use pencil for drawing, and adopted the use of coordinate, or graph, paper. He treasured the coordinate paper that he brought back to the United States with him and used it sparingly over the course of many years. He gave a few sheets to his good friend David Rittenhouse, the astronomer and inventor:

I send for your acceptance some sheets of drawing-paper, which being laid off in squares representing feet, or what you please, saves the necessity of using the rule and dividers in all rectangular draughts and those whose angles have their sines and co-sines in the proportion of any integral numbers. Using a black lead pencil the lines are very visible, and easily effaced with Indian rubber to be used for any other draught.14

A few precious sheets of the paper survive today.

In addition to designing and improving his own houses, Jefferson was a willing contributor to public buildings, such as the Virginia State Capitol. He was involved in the planning of the city of Washington, D.C. and contributed an anonymous design in the competition for the President's House. His architectural knowledge was well known, and friends such as James Monroe solicited his help in designing their houses.15

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 372-73

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