The papacy of Pope Julius II (Giuliano della Rovere), at the beginning of the sixteenth century, was an important period for the patronage of the arts in Italy, especially the visual arts, and Julius was one of the most active and significant patrons of his time.

Pope Julius II

Julius II was pope between 1503 and 1513. The time of his papal rule coincided with the age known as the High Renaissance. A contemporary writer of della Rovere, Vasari, coined this term, and it is still used today. Artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Bramante were at the height of their careers during this time, and all contributed to projects in the Vatican under Julius II’s patronage. While Julius II may best be remembered as the “Warrior Pope”, or for his Machiavellian tactics, he was also given the name of "the Renaissance Pope." He modeled his patronage practices on those of his uncle Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84), and began amassing large personal and public art collections and commissioning the building of numerous civic and religious buildings when he served as a cardinal and Cardinal Archbishop under Pope Nicholas V and Pope Innocent VIII respectively. His additions to the art collection of the Vatican may be Julius II's most impressive venture. He commissioned such projects as the painting of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the frescoes of the Stanza della Segnatura and Stanza d'Eliodoro, known as the Raphael Rooms, including the School of Athens. His reasons for commissioning these, as well as other art works were varied. They served political, spiritual and aesthetic purposes. Also, during his papacy, the lead up to the Protestant Reformation produced increased tension in Christianity, which caused the Catholic Church to lose influence and political power in Europe. Several of his predecessors were poor, unjust, and impious rulers who caused people to doubt the papal seat and the Vatican’s monopoly on religion. For these reasons, among others, Julius requested the magnificent and powerful images that are still so recognizable today. Julius II died February 21, 1513; several of his commissions were still underway or unfinished by the time of his death.

Julius' commissions

Imagery of Julius II

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During his reign, Julius II utilized his iconic status to his advantage, displaying his interest in the arts by placing himself on medals, emblems, and by commissioning specific artworks containing his image. Choosing to commission objects such as medals or coins is quite different from, having a self-portrait created. A medal or coin can be representative of an “antitype” or “modern counterpart” to typical, readable typologies that commonly appear in art. The “types” can serve as a code to decode antiquity, Renaissance or even Baroque art.

The most noticeable self-referencing image trend on the coins and works of art commissioned by Julius II was the “Della Rovere oak." In Italian "rovere" means oak, derived from the Latin "robur," meaning strength or oak tree. The Spernadino medal of Giuliano Della Rovere (1488) is a prime example of a representation of the “Della Rovere oak". In addition, the giant oak in the Belvedere Courtyard was commissioned by Julius in 1504 to be incorporated into Bramante's design for the three-tiered area. The Della Rovere coat of arms bore an oak tree and the family was referenced with the emblem of the acorn, which had mythological, Christian, and Republican Roman iconographic associations. In reality, however, Julius did not belong to the Della Rovere clan, which was established in Vinovo, near Turino. His uncle Sixtus IV was from a family of merchants and Julius II's own father was a fisherman. Sixtus IV had fabricated a lineage associated with the Della Rovere counts when he was a cardinal and saw an opportunity to ascend to the papal throne.

Raphael's Portrait

For full article, see Portrait of Pope Julius II (Raphael)

In 1511, Julius commissioned two portraits of him by the master Raphael. One is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the other in the National Gallery (London), the latter being the more famous of the two. Several years after its completion, Vasari would comment how it was 'true and life-like in every way', and the composition became influential, seen in later portraits such as Titian's 'Pope Paul III' of 1543. Julius' long beard was a sign that he had recently lost the state of Bologna, and helps to date the painting, as the beard is recorded as being shaved off in March 1512.

Julius II and his Artists

Julius first came to appreciate Michelangelo’s work after seeing The Pietá outside of the St Peter Basilica, and as such commissioned him for several key projects:

The Tomb

The tomb was originally commissioned in 1505 yet was not completed until 1545 in a much reduced scale:

  • 1505 - Commissioned by Julius; Michelangelo spends 6 months choosing marble at Carrara
  • 1506 - Michelangelo returns to Rome due to a lack of funds available for the project, and is dismissed by and angry and bitter Julius. Michelangelo moves to Florence until Julius threatens to wage war on the state unless he returns, which he does.
  • 1508 - It is rumoured that Bramante and Raphael, apparently jealous of Michelangelo's commission, convince the Pope that it is bad luck to have his tomb built in his lfetime, and that Michelangelo's time would be better spent on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican Palace (assuming that Michelangelo, primarily a sculptor, would have great difficulty in completing a painting of such scale).
  • 1512 - Michelangelo completes the Sistine Chapel ceiling project and returns to the tomb.
  • 1513 - Between 1512 and 1513, Michelangelo completes three sculptures for the project: the 'Dying Slave' and the 'Rebellious Slave' (now in the Louvre, Paris, and 'Moses' which is now a part of the final design. After these sculptures are completed, Julius dies and the new Pope Leo X abandons the project.
  • 1516 - A new contract is agreed between Michelangelo and Julius' heirs who demand the completion of the project.
  • 1520s - Carves 'Victory' and 4 unfinished slaves, which now sit in the Acaddemia in Florence with the David
  • 1532 - A second new contract is signed by Michelangelo which involves a wall-tomb.
  • 1542 - The wall-tomb is begun by Michelangelo after final details are negotiated with Julius' grandson.
  • 1545 - The final tomb is completed, and installed in San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome; it includes the original 'Moses' sculpture along with 'Leah' and 'Rachel' (probably completed by Mich's assistants) on the lower level, and several other sculptures (definitiely not by Michelangelo) on the upper level.

One of Pope Julius II’s largest and most well known commissions was the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica, beginning in 1506. When Julius took the papal office, the condition of the Church was extremely poor, and he took the opportunity to expand it, modernize it, and leave his impression forever on the Vatican. Julius hired Donato Bramante to design the Basilica, a prominent architect and artist of the day. This was seen as a surprise move at the time, many thought Giuliano da Sangallo was the front runner for the commission. Della Rovere wanted the splendor of the new Cathedral to inspire awe in the masses, produce support for Catholicism and prove to his enemies he was a pious and devoted man. Bramante not only would fulfill these expectations with his design, but also with his character, which may explain why della Rovere chose him over Sangallo. “Bramante wanted to build a Basilica that would ‘surpass in beauty, invention, art and design, as well as in grandeur, richness and adornment all the buildings that had been erected in that city’" (Scotti, 47).

Raphael came to work for the Pope because of his friendship with Bramante. Bramante had been in Rome working for the Pope when he sent a letter to Raphael telling him that he had convinced Julius to allow Raphael to paint the Stanza della Segnatura. Raphael who had been working on other commissions in Florence immediately dropped his projects and moved to Rome to work for the Pope, but when he arrived he found many great artists painting in the Stranza della Segnatura. When he finished the Vatican Library, he amazed Julius II so much that according to Vasari he chose "to destroy all the scenes painted by other masters from the past and present, so that Raphael alone would be honoured above all those who laboured on the paints which had been done up to that time"(Vasari, 314).

Rome Sistine Chapel 01

Interior of the Sistine Chapel

Julius II's Motivation behind his Patronage

Generally, scholars have taken one of two sides regarding the many magnificent commissions of Julius II. The first, more widely accepted viewpoint is that Julius was an extravagant patron. He was known by scholars to be a patron purely for selfish motives, imposing aspirations, and a grandiose self image. (Gosman, 43). Scholars accept that the probable and foremost reason was that it would be a way to forever leave his mark on the Catholic Church. Many argue that Julius was using art to further extend his own Papacy, as well as the role of Popes to come. Julius II’s Papacy is frequently looked down upon for it is common conception that he was keen for glory, which is reflective in his nickname, “The Warrior Pope” (Gosman, 50). The Pope was an extremely proud and motivated man, who aspired to be remembered as one of the greatest popes in history. Building the largest Cathedral, Saint Peter’s Basilica, in the world would certainly add to the Pope’s résumé. Many also discredit Julius II for having repeatedly identified himself with Julius Caesar. His desire to emulate Caesar and his extravagant patronage further the negative connotations (Scholars have drawn this conclusion from the medal his had made for Saint Peters with himself on the back and his self chosen name of Julius). (Gosman, 44) Another reason for these commissions is said to be a blatant attempt to display his and the Church’s wealth. Essentially, Julius II was advertising the bountifulness of Catholicism. It is argued that he tried to win the masses over with grand and majestic marvels that would inspire awe, reverence and even fear. Modern scholars also argue that the Pope was attempting to prove his piety in the eyes of both the Church and the people. Julius II was not regarded as an extremely “religious” man; many, in fact, thought of him as the opposite. In Julius’s eyes constructing such a large religious site would help him prove his devotion to God and the Church. Scholars believe that Julius II was well aware that the artwork he was commissioning could convey powerful messages, and thus the reason he was commissioning them. The second, less common stance is that Julius’s main motive for his patronage was for his own personal aesthetic pleasure (Gosman, 45). One scholar defends Julius II's patronage by stating;

“It must not be forgotten that not all messages conveyed in works commissioned by a patron, let alone those merely addressed to him, can be read as a communication by the patron of his thinking and claims and aspirations. To say this is not to deny that messages may be read into them, but it should not be assumed that patrons would necessarily have cared about or understood or been motivated by theories and statements about their power and authority that may be coded into the works of art they paid for". (Gosman, 61)

Scholars argue that these works can not be literally taken as a guide to the ideas of the Pope himself. These scholars point out that it was not solely the patron pulling the strings behind these imposing works of art, but a group of people working together. For example, Julius appears in several of Raphael’s frescos, it is a known fact that he approved his placement there. However, modern scholars are only inferring that this is with his instruction with facts to support the notion that Julius did indeed desire to be painted in the frescos. (Gosman, 55) Julius was, according to some scholars, a man who appreciated art, took pleasure in building, and merely wanted to create grand places to live in which are much more important than the desire to project political ideas and the images of his power. (Gosman, 55)

Works cited

  • "Cappella Sistina." Lubilaeum. 8 Dec. 1994. 5 Feb. 2007 <>.
  • De Tolnay, Charles. Michelangelo, Vol. IV: The Tomb of Julius II. Princeton: Princeton University P, 1945.
  • Felix, Gilbert. The Pope, His Banker, and Venice. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1980.
  • Frank, Isabelle. "Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere and Melozzo Da Forli At SS.
  • Apostoli." Zeitschrift FüR Kunstgeschichte (1996): 97-122. JSTOR. Tutt Library, Colorado Springs, CO. 5 Feb. 2007 <>.
  • Goldwaite, Richard A. Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy, 1300-1600. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University P, 1993.
  • Gosman, Martin, ed. "The Patronage of Pope Julius II." Princes and Princely Culture 1450-1650. Danvers, MA: Koniklijke Brill NV, 2005. 43-61.
  • Hall, Marcia, ed. Raphael's School of Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University P, 1997.
  • Hersey, George L. High Renaissance Art in St. Peter's and the Vatican. Chicago: The University of Chicago P.
  • Hoover, Sharon R. "Pope Julius II." Tour of Italy. May 1999. 5 Feb. 2007 <>.
  • Jokinen, Anniina. "Julius II." Luminarium. 15 Mar. 2003. 5 Feb. 2007 <>.
  • King, Ross. Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling. London: Chatto and Windus, 2002.
  • Minnich, Nelson H. "Julius II (1503-13)." The Great Popes Through History. Ed. Frank J. Coppa. 1 vols. Westport: Greenwood P, 2002.
  • Partridge, Loren, and Randolph Starn. A Renaissance Likeness. London: University of California P, 1980.
  • Pastor, Ludwig. The History of the Popes, from the close of the Middle Ages, Vol. VI, 2nd ed. St. Louis: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co., Ltd., 1902.
  • "Pope Julius II." Who 2? 5 Feb. 2007 <>.
  • Reynolds, Christopher. Papa; Patronage and the Music of St. Peter's, 1380-1513. Berkeley: University of California P, 1995.
  • Scotti, R.a. Basilica the Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2006.
  • Shaw, Christine. "The Patronage of Pope Julius II." Princes and Princely Culture 1450-1650 2 (2005): 43-61.
  • Shaw, Christine. Julius II: The Warrior Pope. Cambridge MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1993.
  • Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Artists. Trans. Julia C. Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991.
  • Verstegen, Ian, ed. Patronage and Dynasty: The Rise of the Della Rovere in Renaissance Italy. Missouri: Truman State University P, 2007.
  • Weiss, Roberto. "The Medals of Pope Julius II (1503-1513)." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (1965): 163-182. JSTOR. Tutt Library, Colorado Springs, CO. 5 Feb. 2007 <>.
  • Zucker, Mark J. "Raphael and the Beard of Pope Julius II,." The Art Bulletin (1977): 524-533. JSTOR. Tutt Library, Colorado Springs, CO. 5 Feb. 2007 <>.

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