Pope Julius II
Giuliano della Rovere, Patron of Italian Renaissance Art in Rome.

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Genesis Fresco by Michelangelo
The Genesis Fresco on the
ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
By Michelangelo. A sublime
work of Biblical art, it is
considered to be one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

Pope Julius II (1453-1513: reigned 1503-13)
Renaissance Patron of the Arts in Rome


Road to the Papacy
Artistic Achievements

For a general guide to the evolution of painting, sculpture and
other artforms, see: History of Art (2.5 Million BCE -present).

The new St Peter's Rome (1506-1626)
Initiated by Pope Julius II.
Showing Maderno's facade, and
the Renaissance-style Dome,
designed by Bramante and

Renaissance Popes
Sixtus IV (1471-84)
Innocent VIII (1484-92)
Alexander VI (1492-1503)
Pius III (26 days 1503)
Julius II (15013-13)
Leo X (1513-21)
Adrian VI (1522-23)
Clement VII (1523-34)


A key figure of the Italian Renaissance and a dynamic patron of Renaissance art in Rome, Giuliano della Rovere (1453-1513) - better known as Pope Julius II (1503-13) - was the nephew of Francesco della Rovere (1414-84), who himself ruled as Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84). A formidable personality, Julius was determined to make the papacy the most important power in Italy and turn Rome into a centre of Renaissance art that would outshine the Tuscan capital Florence. He succeeded on both counts. "Hated by many and feared by all", Julius - using a combination of military and diplomatic moves - increased the power of the Papacy, and - with the help of the greatest Old Masters of the day - turned the Eternal City into the centre of High Renaissance art and culture. For example, he commissioned the Sistine Chapel frescoes (1508-12) by Michelangelo (1475-1564) (the chapel itself was founded by his uncle Pope Sixtus IV); the decoration of the papal apartments in the Vatican - the so-called Raphael Rooms - by Raphael (1483-1520); and laid the foundation stone for a new St. Peter's Basilica (1506-1626), to be designed initially by Donato Bramante (1444-1514). With the decline of the Florentine Renaissance, Julius ensured that Rome would become the location for all new developments in High Renaissance painting as well as advances in Renaissance architecture.

He was also one of Rome's great art collectors and owned a collection of Greek sculpture that included the Laocoon (c.42-20 BCE) as well as the Apollo Belvedere (a priceless copy of the Leochares original of 350–325 BCE). He placed these two works in the Belvedere Courtyard of the Vatican where artists and scholars were allowed to view them. This was the origin of today's celebrated Vatican Museums. Despite his program of costly wars and his huge outlay on St Peter's, he was such a skilful administrator that he left the papacy more prosperous than he found it.



Road to the Papacy

Pope Julius II was the son of Rafaello della Rovere, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. Educated by the Franciscans, he became the Bishop of Carpentras in 1471, at the age of 18. Shortly after this, following the election of his uncle as Pope Sixtus IV, he was appointed Cardinal of San Pietro in Vincoli. To this position - thanks to the power and patronage of his uncle - he added eight bishoprics and the archbishopric of Avignon. His appointment in 1480 as Papal Legate to France, where he spent the next four years, added further to his experience and diplomatic skills. During the 1480s a rivalry emerged between him and Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia. On the death of Pope Innocent VIII, in 1492, Borgia was elected Pope Alexander VI. Over the following decade, bitter relations between the Cardinal and the Borgia Pope led to complex machinations culminating in the invasion of Italy by King Charles VIII of France. In 1503 the Pope died. The conclave that followed elected Cardinal Piccolomini of Siena as Pope Pius III, but he lasted only 26 days, whereupon Della Rovere was elected Pope Julius II.

Artistic Achievements: Sistine Chapel, Vatican, St Peter's

Armed with the title of Pope, Julius determined to make Rome the cultural capital of Italy, and therefore Europe. To do this he cajoled, persuaded and remonstrated with the greatest artists of the day to come to Rome and work for him. Raphael - arguably the finest exponent of High Renaissance painting - came to decorate the private papal apartments in the Vatican, known as the Stanze di Raffaello. These four rooms - the Stanza della Segnatura, the Stanza di Eliodoro, the Stanza dell'incendio del Borgo, and the Sala di Costantino - are now world famous due to frescoes like the School of Athens and other works. He also painted the Sistine Madonna (1514) for Julius's tomb, but the work was redirected to become the altarpiece for the church of San Sisto (St. Sixtus) in Piacenza.

Michelangelo too became the unwilling guest of Julius as he spent four years of his life balanced precariously on top of a wooden scaffold creating the 20,000 square feet of the Genesis fresco (1508-12) - including the iconic image known as the Creation of Adam (1511) - virtually singlehanded. Later he spent several years working on the marble sculpture decorating Julius's tomb.

The renowned architect Donato Bramante, came from Milan to plan the rebuilding of the crumbling Saint Peter's basilica, which had been standing since the era of early Christian art. Its design and construction involved the greatest architects in the land, including: Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, and others. Its decoration would tax the abilities of the greatest sculptors, including: Bernini (1598-1680), who made the baldachin or ceremonial canopy over the main altar, and the traditional Chair of St Peter (Cathedra Petri); Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654), who created the Tomb of Pope Leo XI (1634-44); Antonio Canova (1757-1822), who sculpted the marble statue of Pope Pius VI, and many others.

Note: Both Raphael and Michelangelo would continue to work on Vatican projects after the death of Julius II. Raphael designed cartoons for a set of tapestry art to cover the lowest tier of the Sistine Chapel's walls, for Pope Leo X (1513-1521); Michelangelo - in addition to working on Julius's tomb - returned to the Sistine Chapel to execute a mural for Pope Paul III (1534-1549) - known as the Last Judgment fresco - on the altar wall of the chapel following earlier plans drawn up by Pope Clement VII (1523-1534). The work was finished in 1541, almost exactly 29 years after his completion of the Genesis fresco on the ceiling. Due to the changing mood of the times - in 1527 Rome was sacked by French troops, while the schism between Catholicism and Protestantism increased tensions across the Continent - the two murals were painted in radically different styles. Where the Genesis fresco was an expression of High Renaissance confidence in man and the world, the Last Judgment exemplified the uncertainty of Mannerist painting with man caught between two destinies.


Julius II reigned as Pope for a mere 10 years, and yet his personality and drive helped to lay the foundation for a more resplendent and ultimately more powerful Rome. In some ways one could say he was the Roman equivalent of the Medici Family, whose patronage boosted the Renaissance in Florence. At any rate, his largesse gave a huge boost to architecture and fresco painting, as well as Renaissance sculpture in marble and bronze. His activities were imitated by other rulers across Italy, including other members of the Della Rovere family. His nephew, for instance, Francesco Maria I della Rovere (1490-1538) the Duke of Urbino was a patron of several contributors to Renaissance art in Venice, notably Titian (c.1485/8-1576). On the other hand, Julius's ambition to make Rome the cultural capital of Europe started a trend that - in the hands of less competent pontiffs - drained the treasury of the Vatican and thus led to the imposition of greater religious taxes across Europe. It was this taxation along with its associated corruption that led to Luther's rebellion, the rise of his Protestant movement and the end of Catholic exclusivity.


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