Lost Photos of History – Thomas Jefferson at Monticello Part I

Thomas Jefferson at Monticello

Home >> Lost Photographs of History >> Lost Photos of History – Thomas Jefferson at Monticello Part I

Thomas Jefferson…..The Sage of Monticello

Meeting Mr. Jefferson

After we visited with James Madison, we briefly stopped in to check on another great of history, the Sage of Monticello himself, Thomas Jefferson.

Of course, I couldn’t resist this chance to get a snapshot of the author of the Declaration of Independence. I snapped this picture of him in the front parlor of Monticello, writing a letter at a small desk. I noticed his violin bow beside the letter he was writing.

Wow! Time-traveling can’t get any more exciting than this!

Thomas Jefferson at Monticello
Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. Image made from the 1825 life mask casting of Thomas Jefferson’s head and upper torso by J. I. Browere. Period dress body by Michael Bailey of Michael Bailey Photography. Background image: Google

While at Monticello, we learned a great deal about our 3rd President of the United States.

“When we think of the wonderful powers of this great man, whose heaven-born eloquence so stirred the hearts of men, how touching the meekness with which, at the close of an eventful and honorable career, he thus writes of himself: “Without any classical education, without patrimony, without what is called the influence of family connection, and without solicitation, I have attained the highest offices of my country. I have often contemplated it as a rare and extraordinary instance, and pathetically exclaimed, ‘Not unto me, not unto me, O Lord, but unto thy name be the praise!'”1

While at college, he was one year quite extravagant in his dress, and in his outlay in horses. At the end of the year he sent his account to his guardian; and thinking that he had spent more of the income from his father’s estate than was his share, he proposed that the amount of his expenses should be deducted from his portion of the property. His guardian, however, replied good-naturedly, ‘No, no; if you have sowed your wild oats in this manner, Tom, the estate can well afford to pay your expenses.'”2

Thomas Jefferson at Monticello
Close up of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. Image made from the 1825 life mask casting of Thomas Jefferson’s head and upper torso by J. I. Browere. Period dress body by Michael Bailey of Michael Bailey Photography. Background image: Google

When Jefferson left college, he had laid the broad and solid foundations of that fine education which in learning placed him head and shoulders above his contemporaries. A fine mathematician, he was also a finished Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian scholar. He carried with him to Congress in the year 1775 a reputation for great literary acquirements. John Adams, in his diary for that year, thus speaks of him: “Duane says that Jefferson is the greatest rubber-off of dust that he has met with; that he has learned French, Italian, and Spanish, and wants to learn German.”3

His school and college education was considered by him as only the vestibule to that palace of learning which is reached by ‘no royal road.’ He once told a grandson that from the time when, as a boy, he had turned off wearied from play and first found pleasure in books, he had never sat down in idleness. And when we consider the vast fund of learning and wide range of information possessed by him, and which in his advanced years won for him the appellation of a ‘walking encyclopædia,’ we can well understand how this must have been the case. His thirst for knowledge was insatiable, and he seized eagerly all means of obtaining it. It was his habit, in his intercourse with all classes of men—the mechanic as well as the man of science—to turn the conversation upon that subject with which the man was best acquainted, whether it was the construction of a whee or the anatomy of an extinct species of animals; and after having drawn from him all the information which he possessed, on returning home or retiring to his private apartments, it was all set down by him in writing—thus arranging it methodically and fixing it in his mind.”4

Thomas Jefferson at Monticello Sepia Toned
Sepia Toned image of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. Image made from the 1825 life mask casting of Thomas Jefferson’s head and upper torso by J. I. Browere. Period dress body by Michael Bailey of Michael Bailey Photography. Background image: Google

“An anecdote which has been often told of him will give the reader an idea of the varied extent of his knowledge. On one occasion, while travelling, he stopped at a country inn. A stranger, who did not know who he was, entered into conversation with this plainly-dressed and unassuming traveller. He introduced one subject after another into the conversation, and found him perfectly acquainted with each. Filled with wonder, he seized the first opportunity to inquire of the landlord who his guest was, saying that, when he spoke of the law, he thought he was a lawyer; then turning the conversation on medicine, felt sure he was a physician; but having touched on theology, he became convinced that he was a clergyman. “Oh,” replied the landlord, “why I thought you knew the Squire.” The stranger was then astonished to hear that the traveller whom he had found so affable and simple in his manners was Jefferson.”5

Life Mask Reconstructions

The above images of Thomas Jefferson are Photoshop compositions using the face of Jefferson taken from his life mask. The life mask was cast from a plaster mold of Jefferson’s head and upper torso in 1825 by J. I. Browere.

Thomas Jefferson LIfe Masks
Photoshop life mask before and after reconstructions of Thomas Jefferson

An up-close view of Jefferson below reveals a change in eye direction from the original life mask. Sometimes its good to look directly into someone’s eyes.

Special Thanks to Michael Bailey of Michael Bailey Photography for image use.

See Part II

Lost Photos of History – Thomas Jefferson at Monticello Part II

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Sources & References:
1,2,3,4,5Sarah N. Randolph. “The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson Compiled From Family Letters and Reminiscences ” New York:Harper & Brothers, Publishers, Franklin Square. 1871 https://www.gutenberg.org/files/43331/43331-h/43331-h.htm (Public Domain)

Original Life Mask Image Source: Source: Thomas Jefferson, 1825, John Henri Isaac Browere (1790-1834), Plaster, H: 26.27 x W: 18.5 x D: 10.5 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0209.1961. Photograph by Richard Walker. (Used By Permission)

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