Champollion, decipherer of hieroglyphics

Champollion, decipherer of hieroglyphics

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Title: Jean François Champollion.

Author : COGNIET Léon (1794 - 1880)

Creation date : 1831

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 73.5 - Width 60

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojedasite web

Picture reference: 98DE3246 / INV 3294

Jean François Champollion.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

Combining genius with study, memory with energy, gifts for languages ​​with his devouring passion for the Orient, Jean-François Champollion, son of a bookseller, supported by his brother, devotes his life to the knowledge of ancient Egypt and the recognition of its art.
After having been rocked in his childhood by Bonaparte's Egyptian expedition, he studied Coptic in 1804 then discovered the copy of the texts of the Rosetta Stone, brought back by the republican armies in 1798. The surveys and the drawings that ' it reports are the subject of publications: Monuments of Egypt and Nubia and Descriptive Notes. Two years later, at age 42, he died of exhaustion.

Image Analysis

It was a year before Champollion's death that Léon Cogniet painted this bust painting. In the background we can see Thebes, "the eldest of all cities in the world" as Champollion called it, with the Colossi of Memnon.
A past master in psychological portraiture, Cogniet represents the passionately determined character of the scientist. We see him dressed elegantly, and in the romantic spirit, in a dark jacket, the collar turned up, the hair thick and the tie tied like a butterfly, the beard untidy, his hand on his chest, like Napoleon. His piercing and determined gaze is impressive with determination.

While he was performing this work, Cogniet was also commissioning the decoration of the ceiling of the papyrus room and the Greek manuscripts in the Louvre. This subject is inspired by the history of France linked to the arts and letters: we see Bonaparte in Egypt, surrounded by scholars and artists, directing their work and the movement of troops around them.

This portrait of Champollion is therefore in line with this portrait gallery. It is rendered with sensitivity. It expresses the genius, the creative energy that burns in the eyes of the scientist.


This portrait shows a penetrating character, the very symbol of Napoleonic greatness and the prospects opened up by the Empire to men of science and genius. Master of his own destiny, Champollion is, like Bonaparte, the one who opens the door to study and scientific discovery to all: this science which is the fruit of the Enlightenment and the great ambition of the 19th century. .

  • Champollion (Jean-Francois)
  • Directory
  • discoveries
  • Egypt
  • East
  • History
  • egypt expedition
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)


Michel DEWACHTER Champollion a scribe for Egypt Paris, Gallimard coll. “Discoveries”, Paris, 1991.

To cite this article

Malika DORBANI-BOUABDELLAH, "Champollion, decipherer of hieroglyphics"

Video: Jean-François Champollion 1790 - 1832