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Pope Julius II by Raphael,1511

This elderly man looks to us in the 21st century like a benign grandad.  But he was one of the Catholic Church's most ambitious Popes. Julius II combined being a tyrant and

war monger who used military campaign booty to fund his building initiatives in Rome, with being one of the great patrons of Renaissance art.  He believed that he was not just the Pope, but Julius Caesar.  Painted in 1511 by Raphael, this massive portrait shocked his contemporaries.

The Story

Julius asked Rapael to paint him as more emperor sitting on his throne than religious leader. This portrait captures the way Julius saw art as another way to show temporal power in the papacy, while his frescoes in the Vatican Palace (Stanze) served as propaganda for his cause. The portrait was hung at the pillars of Santa Maria del Popolo, at the gates to Rome, for feast and high holy days.

Painting Highlights

Julius’s face is lined, with sagging flesh yet its structure is forceful. He clenches his teeth as if he is in deep thought or contemplation. There is sensuality to the pope's ochre and bronze flesh. He clutches a silk handkerchief, indicating his inward sensitivity. The other hand grips the arm of the chair.


The golden acorns on either side of his head are family symbols. Beneath the green drapery in the background are traces of an earlier design of the papacy's crossed keys. It is the realisation of a person's physical presence that makes this painting so powerful.  


Look at the size of the gems in his rings – they are worth a fortune.


The original hanging in the background was a blue and gold textile, either woven silk or embroidery, with gold emblems in tear-shaped light blue compartments, against a dark blue background.


The original emblems were the Papal crossed keys, the Papal tiara, and perhaps the heraldic oak tree of Julius's family, the Della Rovere ("Of the oak"). This was over-painted by Raphael with the green cloth now seen.


Julius doesn't look at you, as if he won't or can't bear to; and the aged, melancholy softness of his face only adds to the sense that his disapproval is terrible and final.


This is God himself turning his head away, leaving us to depart miserably from his presence. Julius was depressed because the city of Bologna had seceded from the papal states.


He expressed his grief at this political disaster by growing a beard, imitating what Renaissance humanists had discovered was an ancient form of mourning.

Bigger Picture

Pope Julius II was a popular subject for Raphael and his students.


The way this portrait was presented was different from most others during that period. Generally there would be portraits showing the subject kneeling. This painting was intimate and far different from what people were used to seeing. Most painters continued to paint this way after seeing this piece of art. It was actually responsible for establishing a new way of doing papal portraits.


According to the 16th Century show biz reporter and art historian Vasari, when contemporaries saw the portrait, they found it so true and so life-like that it caused all who saw it to tremble, as if it had been the living man himself. The painting makes you feel like a terrified retainer called into the pope's presence for some savage dressing-down. Instead of shouting, he is too sad to speak, too disheartened to look you in the face.


Raphael painted at a time when the use of oil was new and still a subject of trial and error. Raphael's use of oil paint is almost unequalled in history. Look at the wrinkling of the skin as his left hand grips the throne, the flow of ruched, white fabric over his knees, the sense of his wiry body inside his robes.


This is a self enthroned - the throne and robes are part of Julius. We are in the presence of unquestionable authority in terms of the Pope and in Raphael as an artist.


A bit more about the Autocratic Warrior  Art Patron

Julius II (1503-13) wanted Rome to be the capital of the world. Using urban planning and newly commissioned  frescoes and paintings he wanted to impose his ideas firmly into eternity. In his ten years in the Vatican, Julius was responsible for much of the grand art we can still see today in Rome.


He commissioned new buildings, frescoes, sculptures, and paintings on a larger scale than any Pope before. By bringing to Rome the best talent around - Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael and other accomplished artists, he was able to form an atmosphere of creativity in the Vatican that had never been seen. In his artistic patronage, Julius II was exceedingly successful.


He saw religious and temporal power as inseparable and as essential to the achievement of his goal to liberate the Papal States from the foreign invaders, as they stood in the way of his design for a unified Italy under a Universal Church.


Through the most prominent artists of his time he aimed to restore the capital’s authority, both as regards the spiritual and political renovation of Christianity, and the city’s architectural splendour, the latter seen as an essential means to the achievement of the former.


The construction of the Strada Julia (started c.1504) can be considered as the first example of Renaissance urban planning, the symbol of a new, more rational organisation of the city. The road was built with the specific objective of connecting the key business and judicial buildings. By destroying many of the properties in the area the architect Bramante had clearly intended to assert Papal jurisdiction over the Florentine bankers and merchants.


Julius commissioned the rebuilding of the Basilica. Due to the Basilica’s symbolic value in Christianity, for Julius II to be identified with a new and colossal St Peter’s meant he could leave his own personal and eternal mark on history and on the Catholic Church. Such an ambitious project was also bound to boost papal prestige and authority.


Subsequently, one can assume that Julius II believed in the power of a building of such splendour and colossal proportions to inspire awe and reverence in the masses, thus contributing to the restoration of the Church’s waning spiritual influence.



Who  paid for the picture?

Julius II.


In the summer of 1508, Julius summoned Raphael (1483-1529) to Rome, and around the same time commissioned Michelangelo (1564) to create an array of works for the Vatican. Michelangelo subsequently carved a marble statue of him, and Julius II examined it with a puzzled expression, asking, What is that under my arm?" A Bible, your Holiness," replied Michelangelo. What do I know of Bibles?" roared the Pope; "I am a warlord; give me a sword instead".


His preference for a sword over a Bible had its effect in Rome and he became known as "Pope Dreadful" and "Pope Terror"


Fascinating Facts About Raphael

Self-portrait by Raphael, 1506

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael was born on April 6, 1483 into a family of artists.  He was orphaned at 11 and died at 37.


He was one of the great artists of the High Renaissance as both painter and architect.


Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were all contemporaries, and had met each other at one stage or another.


Raphael, having been named successor to Bramante as chief architect of the Vatican, designed a number of churches, palaces, and mansions.


Raphael (with his workshop) was a prolific painter with 78 paintings, and 26 Madonnas, 26 portraits, 17 rooms, and 6 paintings in the Uffizi.


Raphael was originally asked to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but he refused and suggested Michelangelo. It is believed he suggested Michelangelo knowing Michelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter.


Raphael was very social and a bit of a party animal.  He probably died of syphilis.


Raphael lived in rather grand style in a palace designed by Bramante.


In 1510, he was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the Pope’s personal library. There were four frescoes altogether: philosophy, law, poetry, and theology. The most well known is The School of Athens, which represents Philosophy. Many well-known people are portrayed, including Michelangelo, Plato, Aristotle and Athena . This work portrays the Renaissance as the new classical age.


After Bramante's death in 1514, Raphael was named architect of the new St Peter's.


Nine copies of this portrait of Julius II  were created by Raphael and his workshop of fifty pupils and assistants.

Raphael's Pictures

School of Athens, Fresco, Apostolic Palace, Vatican, 1509-11

Portrait of Elisabetta Gonzaga, c. 1504

Portrait of Maddalena Doni, 1506-7.

Portrait of Baldassare Castiglionea, 1515

Young Woman with Unicorn, 1506

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