I.  Introduction

While the direct architectural precedent for Jefferson’s villa at Monticello is Palladian, its indebtedness to the Roman sources has been noted. The link between Monticello and the Roman villa was first introduced by Karl Lehman in Thomas Jefferson, American Humanist,12 and later expanded into a thesis by Kimberly Prothro13 at the University of Virginia. Given that Jefferson worked on Monticello over the course of some forty years, and that he supervised the construction of the Academical Village from his home, one can assume many of the ideas that drove Monticello also fed into the University. Although the correlations between Monticello and the Lawn are beyond the scope of this present treatment, the presence of the Roman villa in each are differentiated by their respective functions. As a plantation that was intended to be financially self-sufficient, Monticello closely followed the villa in terms its actual operation. The University, an educational institution, manifests the villa at a conceptual level, in terms of discourse and formal typologies.

II.  Ideology

The ancient Roman attitudes towards urban and rural life can be summed up in the terms negotiis and otium. Negotiis, referring to everyday concerns, business matters, personal responsibilities, was in the city thought to be a compromised or debased state of affairs, tainted with vice. Otium, on the other hand, could be defined as “seclusion, or serenity, or relaxation, but the ancients thought of it rather as an opportunity to engage, often intensely, in worthwhile physical and mental pursuits.”14 This ideal of life was associated with the Greek philosophy of Epicureanism, which taught that the most worthwhile activity in life was the pursuit of happiness. The greatest happiness was thought to be tranquility, which was brought about by minimizing one’s desires and then satisfying them. A typical exponent of such a philosophy would be the statesman Pliny the Younger, whose life in his villas consisted mainly of the following:15

• Dictating letters to his secretary
• Reading Greek and Latin oration
• Going for walks around his grounds
• Dining and socializing with friends

Other activities included meditating, exercising, bathing, taking naps, occasionally hunting and dealing with his tenants. The other ideal of villa life was inspired by Stoicism, which advised living according to reason and virtue, and being indifferent to pleasure and pain. Such an outlook was shared by those such as Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder), whose attitude towards his villa was entirely pragmatic. Cato viewed his villa as a productive enterprise, primarily concerned with efficiency and condemning any superflousness. Not surprisingly, the image one draws from his villa is one of austerity, with a minimum of conveniences. This kind of country life was supposed to produce sturdy and upright citizens, as opposed to the laziness and decadence of city life and, apparently, of the kind of luxury villa exemplified by Pliny’s.

Having studied both Epicureanism and Stoicism, Thomas Jefferson’s own outlook seems to have been a synthesis of the two. Although an avid reader of the classics,

no systematic moral philosophy emerged from Jefferson’s apprenticeship to the Greek and Roman moralists. However, he seems to have been greatly impressed with the respective attractions of the two moral philosophies which he judged the best that pre-Christian Western society had offered, namely, Stoicism and Epicureanism. Despite the familiar opposition between the two doctrines, an oppositon more insuperable in theory than in practice, Jefferson was deeply sensible of the moral advantages inherent in each program.16

For Jefferson, the Epicurean pursuit of happiness required Stoic will and forbearance. Therefore it appears that the two philosophies “were not sharply distinguished for Jefferson; that he used them as complementary techniques in the realization of the good life.”17 This puts into context the seemingly opposite extremes of which he was capable in his own life. On the one hand, “he visited homes, made wagers with girls, gossiped about love affairs, served at weddings…was a skilled horseman, played on the violin, and seems to have been a gay companion”; on the other hand, he “formulated for himself a stern code of conduct and had disciplined himself to habits of study as few of his contemporaries ever found strength to do.”18

The two ideologies that provided the discourse and justification for villa life have accompanied it, in greater or lesser proportions, from the inception of the Roman villa onwards; that Jefferson embraced them both is not insignificant. They were less opposed to each other than to the urban (read: mercantile) values that were anathema to Jefferson. Given further the influence of both Lockean liberalism and Classical republicanism on Jefferson’s political ideology, it is therefore not surprising that the configuration of the Academical Village lies somewhere between the autonomous villa in the landscape and the systematized collectivity of an urban structure.

III.  Form

The ancient Roman villa generally conformed to two basic types. The compact-cubic is thought to have been the first to emerge historically. This configuration fits the various spaces and functions of the villa within a contained, rectangular perimeter, usually with a loggia on one or more sides. The compact type occurred most frequently in suburban conditions where the villa had not been completely divorced from urban housing types, and in remote locations where defense was a primary consideration.19  Examples of these include the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, the Villa of Publius Fannius Synistor in Boscoreale, the Villa of San Rocco in Francolise, and the Villa at Settefinestre.

The second type is the open-extended; this configuration appeared later, and was common by the time of the Imperial era. This formal evolution was linked to a shift in economic and cultural climate of the period. The earlier compact type, optimized for functional and defensive efficiency, lost relevance when the small independent farms gave way to an economy based on large conglomerate farms, slave labor, and imported crops.20  The villa became predominantly a luxury rather than a productive investment. The emphasis on rest and recreation was accompanied by a dispersion and articulation of the different parts of the villa complex. The individual buildings gained a wider variety of forms along with a more casual configuration in plan, which seems to be the result of two factors. FIrst, this kind of informal layout often responded to the topography of the landscape or was oriented to scenic views. Secondly, the luxury-type villas were often built cumulatively, with the addition of buildings over time. Examples include Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, Pliny’s Laurentinum and Tusci villas, and the Villa of Val Catena.

While the Romans seemed to have few intermediary schemes, the composition of the Academical Village incorporates aspects of both types. An early sketch by Jefferson is an inversion of the compact-cubic type, as if it were turned inside-out. The buildings, rather than massed together centrally, are located along the rectangular perimeter, and the colonnaded loggia faces the interior courtyard. Even at this conceptual stage, however, it is important to note that one end has been left open so that components of the University could be added on as needed. This was indeed how the Academical Village was finally constructed, with the U-form of the colonnade opening out to a view of the mountains and purposely terminating with dorm units (rather than Pavilions) to signify its potential extension. The Pavilions, each of which could be considered a villa of the cubic-type, are inserted at increasing intervals into the colonnade. While this has often been explained in terms of its perspectival effects, it is first and foremost a conceptual move (Thomas Jefferson never designed in perspective) syntactically demonstrating the simultaneous infinite expansion of the “arms” of the colonnade—with the individual “schools” of the Pavilions—into the landscape, and its reception and compression towards the “head” of the Rotunda’s library.


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