Palladian architecture and social change in postrevolutionary Virginia
Palladianism is a powerful international architectural model that found its widest American expression in the Chesapeake region during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In Virginia, Palladianism is associated with the impressively scaled houses of the eighteenth-century ruling elite. Investigation of a later, previously undocumented phase of Palladian building associated with the Cabells, an accomplished Virginia family, reveals the continued dependence of the gentry class on elaborate architectural statements to demonstrate their power and authority and organize their complex domestic relations.
Between 1790 and 1810 the Cabells built a number of Palladian dwellings, both from a single building campaign and by radical alteration of earlier structures to achieve the distinctive configuration. While use of an imported European model accounts for the formal qualities of this collection of houses, the multipart configuration was tempered by traditional building practices and individual social needs to produce a particularly local interpretation of Palladian architecture.
While it is customary to attribute the appearance of the form to stylistic convention, talented designer or printed influence, this work proposes that the Palladian model was preferred by the Cabell family because it amplified and clarified political, economic and social distinctions, reinforced the structure of domestic relationships and satisfied new spatial needs.
The study has a dual ambition in reopening the discussion of American Palladian architecture. First, it proffers an explanation for the Cabells' selection of the Palladian model by pairing an architectural analysis with detailed political, economic and social studies of Virginia during the new national period.
Because we need to account for structures that have been excluded from mainstream architectural history and gain admission for them into the ranks of historical studies, the secondary task of this work is to introduce a fresh group of buildings for study in an attempt to enlarge, and thereby redefine, the architectural canon from 1790 until 1815.