Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Delaplaine, 3 May 1814

To Joseph Delaplaine

Monticello May 3. 14.


Your favors of Apr. 16. and 19. on the subject of the portraits of Columbus and Americus Vespucius were recieved on the 30th. while I resided at Paris, knowing that these portraits, & those of some other of the early American worthies were in the gallery of Medicis at Florence, I took measures for engaging a good artist to take and send me copies of them. I considered it as even of some public concern that our country should not be without the portraits of it’s first discoverers. these copies have already run the risks of transportations from Florence to Paris, to Philadelphia, to Washington, & lastly to this place, where they are at length safely deposited. you request me ‘to forward them to you at Philadelphia for the purpose of having engravings taken from them for a work you propose to publish, and you pledge your honor that they shall be restored to me in perfect safety.’ I have no doubt of the sincerity of your intentions in this pledge; and that it would be complied with as far as it would be in your power. but the injuries and accidents of their transportation to Philadelphia and back again are not within your controul. besides the rubbing thro’ a land carriage of 600. miles, a carriage may overset in a river or creek, or be crushed with every thing in it. the frequency of such accidents to the stages renders all insurance against them impossible. and were they to escape the perils of this journey, I should be liable to the same calls, and they to the same or greater hasards, from all those in other parts of the Continent who should propose to publish any work in which they might wish to employ engravings of the same characters. from public therefore as well as private considerations, I think that these portraits ought not to be hazarded from their present deposit. like public records, I make them free to be copied, but, being as originals in this country, they should not be exposed to the accidents & injuries of travelling post. while I regret therefore the necessity of declining to comply with your request, I freely and with pleasure offer to recieve as a guest any artist whom you shall think proper to engage, and will make them welcome to take copies at their leisure for your use. I wish them to be multiplied for safe preservation, and consider them as worthy a place in every collection. indeed I do not know how it happened that mr Peale did not think of copying them while they were in Philadelphia; and I think it not impossible that either the father or the son might now undertake the journey for the use of their Museum. on the ground of our personal esteem for them, they would be at home in my family.

When I recieved these portraits at Paris, mr Daniel Parker of Massachusets happened to be there, and determined to procure for himself copies from the same originals at Florence; and I think he did obtain them, and that I have heard of their being in the hands of some one in Boston. if so, it might perhaps be easier to get some artist there to take and send you copies. but be this as it may, you are perfectly welcome to the benefit of mine in the way I have mentioned.

The two original portraits of myself taken by mr Stewart, after which you enquire, are both in his possession at Boston. one of them only is my property. the President has a copy from that which Stewart considered as the best of the two; but I believe it is at his seat in this state.

I thank you for the print of Dr Rush. he was one of my early & intimate friends, and among the best of men. the engraving is excellent as is every thing from the hand of mr Edwin. Accept the assurance of my respect, and good wishes for the success of your work.

Th: Jefferson

RC (LNT: George H. and Katherine M. Davis Collection); addressed: “Mr Joseph Delaplaine Philadelphia”; franked; postmarked Milton, 4 May; endorsed by Delaplaine, including a misrecording of his 17 Aug. 1814 reply: “Wrote 18 Aug 1814.” PoC (DLC). Tr (ViU: GT); at head of text: “exd”; posthumous copy.

In 1788 Philip Mazzei engaged the artist Giuseppe Calendi on TJ’s behalf to copy portraits of Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Hernán Cortés, and Ferdinand Magellan (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 15:xxxv–xxxvi; Stein, Worlds description begins Susan R. Stein, The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, 1993 description ends , 73, 132–3). The version of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of TJ owned by president James Madison is now at Colonial Williamsburg (Bush, Life Portraits description begins Alfred L. Bush, The Life Portraits of Thomas Jefferson, rev. ed., 1987 description ends , 59).

Index Entries

  • Calendi, Giuseppe; copies paintings for TJ search
  • Columbus, Christopher; and portrait for J. Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Cortés, Hernán; portrait of owned by TJ search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; letters to search
  • Edwin, David; engraver search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; G. Stuart’s paintings search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; TJ’s collection of search
  • Madison, James; and portrait of TJ by G. Stuart search
  • Magellan, Ferdinand; portrait of owned by TJ search
  • Mazzei, Philip; commissions copies of paintings for TJ search
  • Montpellier (Montpelier; J. Madison’s Orange Co. estate); G. Stuart’s portrait of TJ at search
  • Parker, Daniel (of Paris); paintings owned by search
  • Peale, Charles Willson; and paintings owned by TJ search
  • Peale, Rembrandt; and paintings owned by TJ search
  • Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans (J. Delaplaine) search
  • Rush, Benjamin; portraits of search
  • Stuart, Gilbert; portraits of TJ by search
  • Vespucci, Amerigo (Americus Vespucius); portrait of search