A Setting for Diplomacy
Designed by the architect Edward Vason Jones in 1974, the Thomas Jefferson State Reception Room honors the well-known author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was also minister to France, and America’s first secretary of state and third president. This grand and elegant space, although primarily a reception room, is often rearranged for meetings and official luncheons.
The room draws on architectural elements from Monticello, Jefferson’s home near Charlottesville, Virginia. “Architecture is my delight,” he said,1Quoted in Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello website, https://www.monticello.org/thomas-jefferson/a-day-in-the-life-of-jefferson/sanctum-sanctorum/architecture-is-my-delight (accessed March 14, 2020). and he not only designed Monticello but also contributed to the architecture of the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building. For him, the order, symmetry, and balance of ancient Greek and Roman structures were to be emulated. Jefferson believed these ideals should also guide the conduct of state affairs, and so this reception room evokes the civility and regard for human rights that Jefferson exemplified in his service to the nation.
Classical symmetry and proportion give the Thomas Jefferson State Reception Room a sense of serenity. The archway and columns that frame the opening to the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room are balanced on the opposite side of the room by a fireplace in white Carrera marble, similar to one Jefferson purchased in France about 1785. The mantel is supported by a pair of caryatids, female figures draped in classical style, and carved across the face of the mantel are classical figures representing the stages of life. Above the mantel is a mirror from Boston, and on either side are two paintings, one hung above the other, of historic scenes from mid-19th-century America, including Boston Harbor and the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington.
Prominently displayed in a pedimented niche is a statue of Jefferson holding the Declaration of Independence, based on the 1833 original by the French sculptor David d’Angers. On either side of the statue are portraits of Winthrop Sargent, governor of the Mississippi Territory, and his wife Mary McIntosh Williams Sargent, painted by Gilbert Stuart. The furnishings in the room also include a rare set of elaborately carved chairs from the Chippendale period and a tall case clock from Newport, Rhode Island, made by the Townsend and Goddard School.
Every aspect of the Thomas Jefferson Reception Room displays classical balance and harmonious proportions. Doors are pedimented, the floor is a parquet design, and the walls are topped with a plasterwork frieze of alternating ox skulls and rosettes that was inspired by the frieze in the parlor at Monticello. In the middle of the decorated plasterwork ceiling hangs a chandelier in the style of Robert Adam, from the late 18th century. Window treatments are crowned with ornaments inspired by the eagle at the center of the Great Seal of the United States. Over the entrance to the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room is a Palladian window.
Two circular niches over doorways complete the sense of balance. Here Edward Vason Jones placed busts of George Washington and John Paul Jones to represent American military forces on land and sea during the Revolution. These men, both fellow Virginians, were among Jefferson’s heroes, and he displayed their busts in the tearoom at Monticello.
- A Palladian window divides the classically proportioned Jefferson Room from the neighboring dining room.
- The room’s architectural symmetry is reflected in the mirror hanging above the central neoclassical mantel.
- An event in the Thomas Jefferson State Reception Room in 1961, prior to its transformation into a neoclassical period-style space.