(d. ca. 1150, Neufmoustier)

Baptismal font

Cast bronze, height 60 cm, diameter 80 cm
Saint-Barthélemy, Liège

The bronze font made between 1107 and 1118 probably by Reiner de Huy (Rainer of Huy) for the church of St Barthélemy in Liège. The font is the finest example of a series of objects made at or near Liège. Their antique appearance and recondite imagery typify the intellectual refinement of Liège in the twelfth century; the city was described by contemporary monks as "the Athens of the North" and its school was compared to the Academy of Plato.

Cast on the font are five scenes, separated by trees, on the theme of baptism. The scenes show St John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness; the baptism of the publicans by St John the Baptist; Christ's baptism, the focal point of the design; the baptism of the centurion Cornelius by St Peter; and the baptism of the philosopher Crato by St John the Evangelist.

The figures balance gracefully on a projecting platform and stand out from the background, creating an illusion of space. Some are naked, while even that are clothed retain a sense of the form of the body and of its free movement beneath the garment. The half-length, naked figures of the centurion Cornelius and the philosopher Crato, who are shown immersed in small cylindrical fonts, have been compared to a surviving Roman bronze statuette in Cologne. And yet the general consensus is that the sources of Reiner de Huy's style are to be found not in any actual works of classical art, but in Liège ivories of the eleventh century (themselves strongly influenced by classical examples) and in contemporary Byzantine art.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.