Art patronage of Julius II

Last updated

Raphael's, School of Athens (1509-1511), a fresco in the Raphael Rooms of the Apostolic Palace, Vatican Escola de atenas - vaticano.jpg
Raphael's, School of Athens (1509–1511), a fresco in the Raphael Rooms of the Apostolic Palace, Vatican

Pope Julius II (reigned 15031513), commissioned a series of highly influential art and architecture projects in the Vatican. The painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo and of various rooms by Raphael in the Apostolic Palace are considered among the masterworks that mark the High Renaissance in Rome. His decision to rebuild St Peter's led to the construction of the present basilica.


Julius died in 1513, and except for the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which he lived to see finished, his very largest commissions were finished after his death.

Pope Julius II

Portrait of Julius II by Raphael, 1511-12, National Gallery Pope Julius II.jpg
Portrait of Julius II by Raphael, 1511–12, National Gallery

The term High Renaissance was first used by Giorgio Vasari. Artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Bramante were at the height of their careers during this time. While Pope Julius II is also remembered as the "Warrior Pope" 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 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 ceiling, the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the frescoes of the four large Raphael Rooms, including the Stanza della Segnatura with the School of Athens and other frescos. 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. When Julius died, several of his commissions were still underway or unfinished at the time of his death.

Julius' commissions

Imagery of Julius II

On the wall above the main entrance door of the Sistine Chapel fresco of the Prophet Zechariah lower, with the face of Pope Julius II, le below the coat of the same pope. Michelangelo. Afresco do Profeta Zacarias com rosto do Papa Julio II na Sistina.jpg
On the wall above the main entrance door of the Sistine Chapel fresco of the Prophet Zechariah lower, with the face of Pope Julius II, le below the coat of the same pope. Michelangelo.

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 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 planted 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.

Giulliano della Rovere, as cardinal (left), with his uncle and patron Francesco della Rovere, Pope Sixtus IV (right) Melozzo da forli, Sisto IV nomina Bartolomeo Platina Prefetto della Biblioteca Vaticana, 1477 ca. 02 (cropped2).JPG
Giulliano della Rovere, as cardinal (left), with his uncle and patron Francesco della Rovere, Pope Sixtus IV (right)

In reality, however, Julius did not belong to the Della Rovere clan, which was established in Vinovo, near Turin. 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

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 lifelike 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 his Pietà, now in St Peter's Basilica, and commissioned him for several key projects:

The Tomb

The tomb of Julius II, with Michelangelo's statues of Rachel and Leah on the left and the right of his Moses. 'Moses' by Michelangelo JBU010.jpg
The tomb of Julius II, with Michelangelo's statues of Rachel and Leah on the left and the right of his Moses .

The Tomb of Julius II was originally commissioned in 1505, yet was not completed until 1545 on a much reduced scale:

St. Peter's Basilica 0 Basilique Saint-Pierre - Rome (2).JPG
St. Peter’s Basilica

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 basilica 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 Stanza 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 honored above all those who labored on the paints which had been done up to that time"(Vasari, 314).

Motivation behind Julius II's 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.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo, "an artistic vision without precedent" CAPPELLA SISTINA Ceiling.jpg
The Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo, "an artistic vision without precedent"

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 criticized, for it is a common conception that he was keen for glory, which is reflective in his nickname, "The Warrior Pope" (Gosman, 50). The Pope was extremely proud and aspired to be remembered as one of the greatest popes in history. Building Saint Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, certainly added to the Pope’s résumé.

Many also criticize 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 Julius had made for Saint Peter's with himself on the back, as well as his self-chosen name of Julius. (Gosman, 44) 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)

Some 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 frescoes, and it is known that he approved his placement in them. However, many modern scholars interpret this fact to mean that Julius simply desired to be painted in the frescoes. (Gosman, 55) Julius was, according to some scholars, a man who appreciated art, took pleasure in building, and merely wanted to create grand places in which to live, and that this motivation was much more important than the desire to project political ideas and images of his power. (Gosman, 55)


Related Research Articles

Michelangelo Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet (1475–1564)

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, known simply as Michelangelo, was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet of the High Renaissance. Born in the Republic of Florence, his work had a major influence on the development of Western art, particularly in relation to the Renaissance notions of humanism and naturalism. He is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival and elder contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci. Given the sheer volume of surviving correspondence, sketches, and reminiscences, Michelangelo is one of the best-documented artists of the 16th century and several scholars have described Michelangelo as the most accomplished artist of his era.

Pope Julius II Head of the Catholic Church from 1503 to 1513

Pope Julius II was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1503 to his death in 1513. Nicknamed the Warrior Pope or the Fearsome Pope, he chose his papal name not in honour of Pope Julius I but in emulation of Julius Caesar. One of the most powerful and influential popes, Julius II was a central figure of the High Renaissance and left a significant cultural and political legacy. As a result of his policies during the Italian Wars, the Papal States remained independent and centralized, and the office of the papacy continued to be crucial, diplomatically and politically, during the entirety of the 16th century in Italy and Europe.

Raphael Italian painter and architect (1483–1520)

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form, ease of composition, and visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. Together with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, he forms the traditional trinity of great masters of that period.

St. Peters Basilica Church in Vatican City

The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, or simply Saint Peter's Basilica, is a church built in the Renaissance style located in Vatican City, the papal enclave that is within the city of Rome, Italy. It was initially planned by Pope Nicholas V and then Pope Julius II to replace the aging Old St. Peter's Basilica, which was built in the fourth century by Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.

Sistine Chapel Chapel in the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, in Vatican City and the official residence of the pope. Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who had it built between 1473 and 1481. Since that time, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today, it is the site of the papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescoes that decorate the interior, most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment, both by Michelangelo.

Donato Bramante Italian architect and painter (1444–1514)

Donato Bramante, born as Donato di Pascuccio d'Antonio and also known as Bramante Lazzari, was an Italian architect and painter. He introduced Renaissance architecture to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome, where his plan for St. Peter's Basilica formed the basis of design executed by Michelangelo. His Tempietto marked the beginning of the High Renaissance in Rome (1502) when Pope Julius II appointed him to build a sanctuary over the spot where Peter was martyred.

High Renaissance Short period of the most exceptional artistic production during the Italian Renaissance

In art history, the High Renaissance was a short period of the most exceptional artistic production in the Italian states, particularly Rome, capital of the Papal States, and in Florence, during the Italian Renaissance. Most art historians state that the High Renaissance started around 1495 or 1500 and ended in 1520 with the death of Raphael, although some say the High Renaissance ended about 1525, or in 1527 with the Sack of Rome by the army of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, or about 1530. The best-known exponents of painting, sculpture and architecture of the High Renaissance include Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bramante. In recent years, the use of the term has been frequently criticized by some academic art historians for oversimplifying artistic developments, ignoring historical context, and focusing only on a few iconic works.

<i>The Creation of Adam</i> Painting by Michelangelo

The Creation of Adam is a fresco painting by Italian artist Michelangelo, which forms part of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, painted c. 1508–1512. It illustrates the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God gives life to Adam, the first man. The fresco is part of a complex iconographic scheme and is chronologically the fourth in the series of panels depicting episodes from Genesis.

<i>Sistine Chapel ceiling</i> Display of Renaissance art in Vatican City

The Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted in fresco by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, is a cornerstone work of High Renaissance art. The Sistine Chapel is the large papal chapel built within the Vatican between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV, for whom the chapel is named. The ceiling was painted at the commission of Pope Julius II.

Giuliano da Sangallo Italian sculptor

Giuliano da Sangallo was an Italian sculptor, architect and military engineer active during the Italian Renaissance. He is known primarily for being the favored architect of Lorenzo de' Medici, his patron. In this role, Giuliano designed a villa for Lorenzo as well as a monastery for Augustinians and a church where a miracle was said to have taken place. Additionally, Giuliano was commissioned to build multiple structures for Pope Julius II and Pope Leo X. Leon Battista Alberti and Filippo Brunelleschi heavily influenced Sangallo and in turn, he influenced other important Renaissance figures such as Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, his brother Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, and his sons, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Francesco da Sangallo.

Antonio da Sangallo the Younger Italian architect

Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, also known as Antonio da San Gallo, was an Italian architect active during the Renaissance, mainly in Rome and the Papal States.

San Pietro in Montorio Church in Rome, Italy

San Pietro in Montorio is a church in Rome, Italy, which includes in its courtyard the Tempietto, a small commemorative martyrium (tomb) built by Donato Bramante.

Renaissance Papacy

The Renaissance Papacy was a period of papal history between the Western Schism and the Reformation. From the election of Pope Martin V of the Council of Constance in 1417 to the Reformation in the 16th century, Western Christianity was largely free from schism as well as significant disputed papal claimants. There were many important divisions over the direction of the religion, but these were resolved through the then-settled procedures of the papal conclave.

Andrea Bregno Italian sculptor

Andrea di Cristoforo Bregno (1418–1506) was an Italian Renaissance sculptor and architect of the Early Renaissance who worked in Rome from the 1460s and died just as the High Renaissance was getting under way.

Florentine painting

Florentine painting or the Florentine School refers to artists in, from, or influenced by the naturalistic style developed in Florence in the 14th century, largely through the efforts of Giotto di Bondone, and in the 15th century the leading school of Western painting. Some of the best known painters of the earlier Florentine School are Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Filippo Lippi, the Ghirlandaio family, Masolino, and Masaccio.

This is an index of Vatican City–related topics.

Roman Renaissance

The Renaissance in Rome occupied a period from the mid-15th to the mid-16th centuries, a period which spawned such masters as Michelangelo and Raphael, who left an indelible mark on Western figurative art. The city had been a magnet for artists wishing to study its classical ruins since the early 1400s. A revived interest in the Classics brought about the first archaeological study of Roman remains by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi and sculptor Donatello. This inspired a corresponding classicism in painting and sculpture, which manifested itself in the paintings of Masaccio and Uccello. Pisanello and his assistants also frequently took inspiration from ancient remains, but their approach was essentially cataloguing, acquiring a repertoire of models to be exploited later.

<i>Tomb of Pope Julius II</i>

The Tomb of Pope Julius II is a sculptural and architectural ensemble by Michelangelo and his assistants, originally commissioned in 1505 but not completed until 1545 on a much reduced scale. Originally intended for St. Peter's Basilica, the structure was instead placed in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli on the Esquiline in Rome after the pope's death. This church was patronized by the Della Rovere family from which Julius came, and he had been titular cardinal there. Julius II, however, is buried next to his uncle Sixtus IV in St. Peter's Basilica, so the final structure does not actually function as a tomb.

<i>Sin</i> (2019 film) 2019 film

Sin is a Russian-Italian drama film written and directed by Andrey Konchalovskiy released in October 2019.


The Altoviti are a prominent noble family of Florence, Italy.