Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne
Church of Saint-Roch, Paris
Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne (1704-1778) came from a family of French sculptors. His brother failed in comparison to his outstanding accomplishments as an artist. He was trained by his father, followed by Robert Le Lorrain in 1723. He studied at the Académie de France in Rome. He had a very successful academic career, eventually succeeding François Boucher as Rector of the Académie in 1768. However, due to his father’s poor health and financial problems, he remained in Paris; which he always thought of as the biggest downfall of his career. He was a pupil of Antoine Coysevox, who provided strong influence for his portrait busts that Lemoyne became so well known for. Lemoyne eventually became the official sculptor to Louis XV. He did much large-scale work at Versailles and other places; however, he is known specifically for the liveliness of his portraits. Lemoyne was Louis XV’s favorite sculptor. He executed numerous busts of courtiers, magistrates, scholars, authors, and actors. His works are mostly in Baroque style, with hints of Rococo influence. He channels in on specific moments and capturing raw emotion. Lemoyne was an important influence for other sculptors of the 18th century, such as Houdon and Pigalle.
This specific work, The “Baptism of Christ”, marked the start of Lemoyne’s public career in 1731. Lemoyne received the opportunity to complete this sculpture because his uncle passed away leaving the work unfinished. The “Baptism of Christ” is actually one of Lemoyne’s few large-scale works to survive intact. Lemoyne’s more important works have mostly been destroyed or have disappeared. Lemoyne’s “Baptism of Christ” conveys a specific 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.” It displays a vivid, instantaneous mood by Lemoyne’s use of expressive faces. It’s as if we are actually witnessing this event happen. The marble is almost brought to life by Lemoyne’s hands. His Baroque style presents a sense of tension and raw emotion.
Baroque style was prevalent during the 17th and early 18th centuries. This particular style is generally characterized by asymmetrical compositions, dramatic interpretations, and commanding movement, which can all be observed in Lemoyne’s sculpture. Baroque works engage the viewer physically and emotionally. Viewers are drawn to the dramatic and technically excellent display. It evokes emotion as viewers engage with the moment in time that is frozen before them. We are drawn to experience the salvation and repentance that is signified by the baptism. John the Baptist spoke of Jesus as the powerful redeemer. At first, John did not understand why he was to baptize Christ. Jesus replied that it is proper in order to fulfill all righteousness. In Matthew 3:16-17, it is said that as soon as Jesus was baptized, at that moment heaven was opened and he saw the spirit of God. Lemoyne’s depiction of this moment shows John the Baptist with his mouth open in awe. Jesus has an essence of humbleness and grace. This act was meant to be an example for His followers.
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