LEMOYNE, Jean-Baptiste II
(b. 1704, Paris, d. 1778, Paris)

The Baptism of Christ

Saint-Roch, Paris

Lemoyne's public career begins in 1731. Agréé at the Académie three years before, he was in 1731 to receive by chance two important works. The death of his uncle brought him the then largely unfinished group of the Baptism of Christ, destined for Saint-Jean en Grève; Lemoyne must have worked on this with tremendous speed, for it is signed and dated 1731. The other commission was the bronze equestrian statue of Louis XV for Bordeaux which had been given originally to Guillaume Coustou.

The Baptism of Christ is one of Lemoyne's few large-scale works to survive intact, and it is also one of the few successful pieces of religious sculpture in the whole period. Part of its success is in its deliberate choice of a moment of action. It is in effect a group of frozen theatre, with the figures consciously placed in attitudes that could be held only for a few seconds. This vivid, instantaneous mood culminates in the water pouring on to Christ's head, but it is apparent equally in the expressive faces — St John's almost palpitating, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.