Curators at Work: Natural Bridge

Time Period
1764 to 1824
Media Type
Art & Architecture
Decorative Arts
Domestic Life
Geography & Environment
VMHC Curators

Thomas Jefferson purchased Natural Bridge from the king of England in 1774 in order to guarantee its preservation. When he encouraged Americans and Europeans to view “so beautiful an arch,” seemingly innumerable travelers and artists journeyed to Rockbridge County. Today, Natural Bridge no longer attracts such attention. Why?

On July 9, 2021, VMHC Curators made a presentation that explains how in Jefferson’s era a revolutionary change was taking place in the way that art and nature should be viewed. Interest shifted from the beauty of the object to the emotional response of the viewer. The term “romantic” is often used to describe this appeal to the emotions. As Americans and Europeans yearned to acknowledge the presence of natural forces that they cannot control, Natural Bridge held enormous appeal. This shift in sensibilities explains the intriguing history of Virginia’s most famous landmark.