In this sumptuous painted panorama, we see these privileged British art enthusiasts on the Grand Tour inspecting some of the greatest landmarks of Western European Classical sculpture alongside milestones of Renaissance and Baroque Italian, Dutch and Flemish painting assembled by the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany and, by this time (the painting was executed 1772 to 1778) enjoyed by Leopold II, the Hapsburg Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Austrian Hapsburgs had taken over after the death of the last Medici. With the admirable proficiency that characterizes Zoffany's oeuvre, the viewer is treated to an art exhibition of the the first water in just one work of art which includes a gallery of masterpieces of antique sculpture likeTthe Medici Venus, The Dancing Faun, The Two Wrestlers, and an embracing Cupid and Psyche. On the walls are plastered some of the most notable paintings in the World including Rafael's Madonna della Seggiola, St. John in the Wilderness, and The Madonna del Cardellino, Cleopatra by Guido Reni, The Consequences of War by Rubens as well as a widely admired Madonna and Child by Coreggio among many others.
Thomas Jefferson would have not been out of place and quite honestly can be imagined to have been like the proverbial child in the candy store had he had a chance to ever been allowed to be part of such a gathering which in many ways embodied, not only his own aspirations as a collector living with fine works of art, but of an entire generation of gentlemen of breeding, education and culture during the Age of Enlightenment.
It is hard to pinpoint a time or moment when Jefferson's profound and sustained interest in the fine arts - and in particular European masters - began. . But it's clear the interest was ignited early in his life when he was still a student at William and Mary. While there, he was taken into a circle of older gentlemen of consequence that included the Royal Governor, his law professor George Wythe, and other notable personages in Williamsburg society who gathered regularly to play music and discuss a variety of topics that were stimulating and involved with politics, philosophy and culture. But in these formative years, it seems that it was in his reading, Thomas Jefferson began to become acquainted with cannons of beauty and good taste as it was understood among those of his European contemporaries whose opinions on these matters carried great weight to the point of being widely accepted by the aristocracy and gentry of 18th Century Britain and the European Continent. Among the many published works that seemed to have developed Jefferson's taste were Jonathan Richardson's An Essay on the Theory of Painting (published in 1715) and An Account of Some of the Statues, Bas Reliefs, Drawings and Picturesque in Italy... With Remarks (published in 1722). Another publication that seems to have ingrained much into Jefferson's art appreciation with an appreciation for the European masters was Daniel Webb's An Inquiry Into The Beauties of Painting (published in 1769). Additional publications to make an impact included Joseph Addison's Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, Etc (published in 1745) and it was in Francois Perrier's Segmenta Nobilium Signorium et Statuarium (published in Rome in 1638) that Jefferson was able to view some of the great examples of Greek and Roman sculpture in Italian Papal and Princely collections that illustrated the books in fine engravings.
This reading was later supplemented by a crucial journey in 1766, to Philadelphia and New York where Jefferson was able to visit the houses of some gentlemen of consequence who owned fine copies of European old master paintings. Among them was the eminent physician, amateur and classical enthusiast Dr. John Morgan who was one of the few North American colonists to have embarked on a European Grand Tour from which he returned with what was widely accepted at the time to constitute the most impressive art collection of European paintings by Italian and other masters. Although there is no certainty that Jefferson viewed this renown collection, it's plausible he did. This is a portrait of Dr. Morgan painted by his friend, the Swiss painter Angelica Kauffmann. And in addition to Dr. Morgan's collection, the scholar Seymour Howard who has published profoundly researched material on young Thomas Jefferson's formation as an art collector, asserts there were other gentlemen of the same circles who had notable collections (albeit not as important as Morgan's) which could have easily been made available to the young insatiably curious landowner from Virginia. Among other notable Philadelphia residents in the Morgan circle was the former Royal Governor of Pennsylvania, James Hamilton. Hamilton's collection was hardly insignificant either. It included an original depiction of Saint Ignatius by the Spanish master Murillo. His garden was decorated with marble sculpture after the antique. Hamilton's brother in law, William Allen was also a connoisseur of repute and known at the "Mycaenas of Philadelphia" who sent his son and nephew on the European Grand Tour along with Benjamin West! But Dr. Morgan seems to have been the collector and connoisseur to whom all Philadelphia deferred in questions of taste. Incidentally, Seymour Howard admits no concrete proof of Jefferson visiting Morgan's collection exists to date. But he is also inclined to support the thesis that Jefferson probably did see and enjoy it. And, with that probably being the situation, it's not impossible to imagine such an experience must have made a lasting impression on the budding young Virginian
It is probably about 1771, when the 28 year old Virginia squire and recent bridegroom Thomas Jefferson began to plan his mountain top retreat and residence, Monticello, that he drew up a "wish list" of copies of well known and widely admired Greek and Roman sculpture and European painting with which he hoped to adorn the interior of the house. It gives us a glimpse of his early aspirations in which Monticello was being envisioned somewhat along the lines of a conventional European Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities) and a toss up of library with art gallery. It is also interesting to observe that Jefferson leaned emphatically at this time to Classical sculpture and that it appears painting was secondary as a consideration. On that wish list, it's not surprising that still familiar landmarks of the Classical World were considered essential. Among them, Jefferson included the Medici Venus, seen below...
It is interesting to learn that, as Monticello was being planned and built (only to be rebuilt and doubled in size after Jefferson returned from France where he was inspired to introduce French influences), he envisioned that Venus would occupy a niche on one side of the double doors leading into the main drawing room while on the other side of the doors a niche would display the Apollo of the Belvedere. The original Apollo in the Papal collections is seen below. It was kindly photographed by Olivier Bernier.
Interestingly, Jefferson was to eventually be given a fine marble copy of a large scale antique sculpture depicting a languidly reclining Ariadne in the early 19th Century by James Bowdoin III of Maine. It is seen below and can still be enjoyed as it was in Jefferson's day, in the Entrance Hall of Monticello.
It was not until a 41 year old recent widower with three daughters embarked with his oldest daughter Martha to undertake a diplomatic mission in Paris to assist then American Envoy Benjamin Franklin, that the chance to really visit great collections, develop a sharper eye, and make notable acquisitions became a reality that would had never been available if he had never left late 18th Century North America.
"Behold me at length on the vaunted scene of Europe!" Jefferson writes in a letter to a friend back home. "It may not be necessary for your information that I should enter into details concerning it. But you are perhaps, curious to know how this new scene has struck a savage of the mountains of America". Savage indeed! The first portrait of Jefferson, shortly after the subsequent retirement of Franklin, after which he succeeded the latter as official American Ministre Plenipotentaire to the Court of Louis XVI, depicts a cosmopolitan who has last little time in assuming the mien and manners of a grand seigneur of the Ancien Régime! The portrait was painted by Mather Brown shortly after Jefferson's new appointment during one of his brief visits to transact business in London and visit with his close friends John and Abigail Adams. As is widely known, it was Adams that took on the daunting task of being the first American Envoy to the British Court of George III.
In October of Jefferson initially took a pleasant residence, The Hôtel Landron. It was located on the Cul de Sac Taitbout. And he didn't lose any time in seeking out appointments that were - if not of a princely splendour - noted by a quiet self assured patrician elegance. Thanks to meticulously maintained account books in which his purchases were duly recorded, we learn his early embellishments to the Hôtel Landron included that plaster copy of the Farneses Hercules which is noted as a purchase on 26 October. The account books also record, purchases made an an auction held from 16 to 19 October of the collections of the late Monsieur De Billy who has been premier valet de garderobe du roi. At that auction, Jefferson records he paid "2 small laughing busts, viz, an Ecce Homo and another 18 livres" On the 29th of the same month he notes the purchase of five paintings depicting "heads". The Ecce Homo was almost certainly a copy of the celebrated interpretation of this oeuvre by Guido Reni that was later noted in an inventory prepared by Jefferson after his retirement and permanent return to Monticello. The original after which Jefferson's copy was made is seen below. The current whereabouts of Jefferson's copy is unknown. In this essay, I am not pretending to share a doctoral dissertation. My aim is to inform and share my life long enthusiasm for Jefferson as connoisseur and amateur of l'art de vivre. Consequently, I shall herein share images of the original works of art after which Jefferson's copies were executed to provide a digital experience of what visitors to Monticello themselves enjoyed when they came to pay their respects and enjoy Jefferson's hospitality.
By the late summer of 1785, his new position as envoy necessitated relocation to a more important residence appropriate for his ambassadorial responsibilities. On 3 September 1785 Jefferson signed the lease to occupy the handsome house owned by Le Comte de Langeac. The Hôtel Langeac was a fine residence designed by no one less then Chalgrin and it was located on what was then "the sticks" on the edge of the capital in the 1780's on the corner of the Champs-Elysées and the rue de Berri at the site of the Grille de Chaillot. The house appears on the left of the engraving below.
Along side it hung this depiction of Saint Jerome in Meditation after an original by The Dutch master of German background, Hendrick Gotzius (1558-1617)
The Jefferson written inventory also informs the reader visitors also could not fail to see this copy of Jesus Driving The Money Changers Out of the Temple after Jean Valentin de Boulogne. The original is seen below.
Another surprise to learn is that Jefferson also displayed a copy after Leonardo's sexy Saint John The Baptist! The original, seen below is currently in the Louvre. It was in the legendary collection of both Francois I and later Charles I of England at various times!
The cream of the collection of European masters seems to have been displayed in the adjacent drawing room which was the nucleus of the household's social life. It was always full of visiting visiting neighbors and house guests among whom Jefferson's family members were inevitably to be found. These are some views of the room as now admirable restored in recent years. The first two are more recent and reflect the most up to date arrangements of art on the walls as well as furniture arrangements as new discoveries are made about the placement and position of various things in the house comes to light. The last image is from the 1993 exhibition mentioned earlier. It is shared to convey and idea of the room looking at the fireplace. Some changes in the placement since then are in evidence.
Along the middle tier was also displayed a copy of The Crusifixion Jefferson believed to be an original by Gerard Seghers (whose name he spelled Segers in his list), He notes it as depicting Luke 23.44-45. In lieu of the lost copy Jefferson owned, we see a depiction that was plausibly like Jefferson's own by Seghers below.
The middle tier of the drawing room also displayed two copies after the late 17th Century - earl;y 18th Century French Court artist Antoine Coypel. These copies depicted Susanna and The Elders and jephtha Leading His Daughter to Be Sacrificed which Jefferson notes as based on Judges.11. Both works of the same subject by Coypel seen below represent Jefferson's lost works.
The lower tier reserved for smaller "cabinet" pictures seen more easily and enjoyed up close included two old masters that both depicted variations on the subject of the descent of Christ from the cross. The first seen below is listed in the inventory as an original by Francis Floris who was a very accomplished Flemish School painter of the second rank active principally in Antwerp (1516 - 1570).
Fortunately it can still be seen in the same room in Monticello today!
However, the other lost copy of a painted depiction of the same subject on copper once was seen in the same tier of the drawing room. Jefferson's inventory described it as being after Van Dyke and painted by Dispenbec. See below for an idea by the giant among Flemish 17th Century masters who was second only to Peter Paul Rubens. .
The other reception area in which Jefferson displayed his collection of old master paintings was the dining room. Some views of the room as it is seen currently are below.
Among Jefferson's prized copies of old masters was one of the iconic Grande Sainte Famille de Francois I depicting the Holy Family after Rafael Santi. it is clearly visible in the images above and the copy is still fortunately at Monticello. As implied by the designation just noted, it was the great trophy of the collection of the larger than life Valois King of France, Francois I who took great pride in owning it. It is seen below. The original is still in France and is exhibited in the Louvre.
Another copy of another Italian master is seen just above the moulded arch leading to the Tea Room. It is after Domenichino and depicts The Ascension of Saint Paul into Heaven. Jefferson proudly notes that "the original is in the collection of the King of France".
Unlike the two paintings shared above, another important old master painting once displayed in the upper tier along with these was a copy after Peter Paul Rubens depicting Diogenese in The Market of Athens. Below is an original oil sketch for the finished oeuvre by Rubens to get an idea of what it must have been like.
Another old master painting depicting an episode from the life of Christ was a canvas after Anthony Van Dyke depicting the crusifixion of which the original on which Jefferson's lost copy was based.
Thanks to digital technology and a bit of investigation, it's possible to significantly flesh out an imagined reassembled presentation of Jefferson's once highly admired and loved collection of old master paintings into the acquisition of which he put such obvious joie de vivre and enthusiasm after years of waiting for a chance to be exposed to it as only a demanding and arduous sea voyage across the Atlantic would allow. It is nothing less than tragic that the acute and desperate state of his financial affairs at the end of his life that occasioned the dispersal of the collection by sale at auction following his death resulted in the loss of one of the infant republic's early collections of paintings by European old masters. But thanks to the relentless ongoing efforts of the Monticello curatorial department, many have returned to grace the walls with their beauty that transcends time and changing fashions.