Reading The Scriptures (Napoleon's Commission) (1860)

Baumann, Elizabeth Jerichau (1819 - 1881)

Reading The Scriptures (Napoleon's Commission)

Original: Hope Gallery Collection
Oil on Canvas: 58" x 77"
Catalog# BAUE-003

A young girl reads to her parents from the bible at a warn, warped wooden table with bulbous legs. The older couple sits in deep spiritual pondering across from her as they listen to her recite from the Good Book. Although this appears to be a time for worship, the young girl reads with one hand on the bible and the other clutching her knitting that church most likely interrupted her from. Nestled next to her on the bench is a black cat. The young girl’s face is very delicate with a round button nose, full lips and rosy cheeks. Although the only visible light source is the faint light from the window, her skin has an angelic glowing tone – one that only a golden light could yield. Her soft brown hair is under a black silk bonnet with white lace trim and black sash secured under her chin. Her stark white apron and lace over her chest are vibrantly contrasted against her black and blue dress. Her father sits listening intently with his hands folded. He wears a heavy, thick brown overcoat with a high collar and shiny buttons. His long, gray hair frizzes and curls while his beard is well-trimmed and runs cleanly along his jaw line and under his chin. The mother also sits with her hands folded and dons an expression of deep emotion as she stares distantly past the viewers. She also wears a bonnet with white lace trim and black sash and an apron and lace cover above her dress that contrast against her green dress. They’ve gathered in the main room at the old, large table. The chairs match its heavy rounded shape. The small window on the right holds a small, potted flowering plant on the window sill and offers a white light to the room. Above it hovers a large green planter box. The white rays of light contrast against the beige color of the walls. A large armoire sits against the wall between two framed pictures.

*Baumann was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte III and his wife Empress Eugenie when they viewed the original at a showing in London. Since the original was not for sale, they commissioned a copy that would hang at their residence in London until Napoleon’s death, where it was then donated to the French Embassy in London.

There are only slight differences between the original and commissioned copy: most notably being the palette difference – the original with a blue-gray tone, as opposed to this palette of browns and reds. The original offers a simplified background, but substantially more detail in the young girl’s lace workings and dress embroidery.

Artist: Baumann, Elizabeth Jerichau (1819-1881)

  • Born November 27th 1819 in Warsaw, Poland, daughter of Philip Adolph Baumann and Johanne Frederikke Reyer.
  • Married Jens Adolf Jerichau February 19th 1846.
  • Died July 11th 1881 in Copenhagen.


  • 1838-45 - Studied Art in Berlin & Düsseldorf
  • 1857-63 - Women were not yet allowed into the Royal Art Academy; But her husband was the Director of the Royal Art Academy, so she received unofficial support, training and critique from the Academy.

Travels & Stays:

  • 1845 - Moved to Rome
  • 1849 - Moved back to Copenhagen
  • 1874-75 - Greece and the Ottoman Empire

Awards & Acknowledgments:

  • 1861 - Baumann was one of the first female artists accepted into the Royal Art Academy.
  • 1846-65 - became known and acknowledged for her portraits of numerous Danish Royalty Statesmen and Figure Heads, including King Christian 9, Queen Louise, Orla Lehmann, Johanne Luise Heiberg, Magdalene Thoresen and Hans Christian Andersen, who was a close friend of the Baumann family. Her notoriety and friendship with the Danish Royal Family later brought her numerous commissions from Russian, Greek and British Royals.
  • 1875-79 - Wrote numerous articles for various publications


  • 1844 - Debut exhibit in Düsseldorf
  • 1846 - London
  • 1851 - Exhibited the allegorical painting of the three year war (1848-51) “Denmark” which put her on the artistic map.
  • 1852 - London
  • 1867 - World Exhibition in Paris
  • 1867 - Exhibitions in Sweden and Germany