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Rotunda at the University of Virginian Essay

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Updated: Mar 22nd, 2022

A drawing by Paul Berry (1988) of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia shows the elevation and the first-floor plan, which is a redrawing of the original design sketches by Thomas Jefferson. The Rotunda at the University of Virginian was designed by Thomas Jefferson, which construction had begun in 1822 and ended the year Jefferson died, 1826. Additionally, the drawing shows the source of Jefferson’s inspiration – Hadrian’s Pantheon of ancient Rome. The Rotunda name was taken from Leoni Palladio, in which it is stated, “Of all the Temples which are to be seen in Rome, none is more famous than the Pantheon at present call’s [sic] the Rotunda…” (Fletcher 15).

The redrawing by Berry remains faithful to the original drawing by Thomas Jefferson, with some exceptions. The most notable exceptions in the elevation plan can be seen through the placement of the locations of the windows and the front gate, the top of the dome, and the clock on the pediment, whereas the rest of the elements remain faithful to the original design by Jefferson, including the proportions. There are other differences, nevertheless, which can be seen through Jefferson’s passion for mathematics and geometry and the initial choice of the Pantheon as a source of inspiration for the Rotunda. Such differences in the elevation drawing can be seen through the use of basic geometrical figures, e.g. circles, squares, and triangles, to construct the figure. The original drawing by Jefferson can be used to re-construct the drawing stages of the design, with the circle being the first and the main phase of constructing the Rotunda. Berry’s redrawing does not indicate such a pattern, however, it adds a great level of detail that surpasses the original design.

The levels of details include the material of construction, which is native red brick. Although the use of natively fired red brick was Jefferson’s idea which reflects “the nation’s new democratic character” (Fletcher 39), in his original design Jefferson was faithful to the Pantheon in which stone was used, and thus, did not specify the materials at the time.

In the first floor plan, in addition to the differences in details, some of the differences reflect the changes that were made to the Rotunda, reflecting some of the functional areas in the building. The original Jefferson’s drawing of the first-floor plan did not include an indication of cloakrooms, the washroom, the elevator, and the fireplace location. Other design eleme3nts can be seen in the entrance stairs, which in Berry’s drawing were expanded to cover the furthest columns at the sides. In the original drawing, those stairs were narrower covering only the four columns in the middle. Such difference can be explained by the fact that the exterior of the Rotunda was rebuilt after it was severely damaged in 1895. There are other changes that were later added, and thus, were not reflected in the original design. The additions are represented in Berry’s drawings through the arcades to east and west pavilions. It should be noted that, unlike the elevation, the geometrical aspects are covered in Berry’s drawings, including the radius used, the intersection of three circles that form the interior, and an indication of different measurements. The original drawing of the first-floor plan was largely plain, with the exception of a small pencil-written caption.

Reference

Fletcher, Rachel. “An American Vision of Harmony: Geometric Proportions in Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda at the University of Virginia.” NEXUS NETWORK JOURNAL 5.2 (2003): 7-47. Print.

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