Pope Julius as a High Renaissance Patron

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  • 00:00 The Renaissance Pope
  • 00:54 Pope Julius II and Patronage
  • 2:46 Commissions of Julius II
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the role of Pope Julius II as a patron of the arts during the High Renaissance. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Renaissance Pope

Art History Lesson 101: When people need to show off their wealth and power, they commission art. Throughout history, across the world, art has been used by the rich and powerful to show off or ensure their legacies. This was especially true in Italy during the High Renaissance, when the artistic and social development of the Renaissance was at its peak, from roughly the 1490s to 1520s.

During this period, the greatest patrons of art were the most powerful people in Europe, and nobody was more powerful than the Pope. Pope Julius II was head of the Catholic Church from 1503-1513, during which he was also one of the most powerful people in the world. And what do powerful people do to ensure their legacies?

Pope Julius II and Patronage

Pope Julius II spent his career collecting and commissioning great works of art. The act of being a patron of art was widely accepted during the Renaissance, and Pope Julius enthusiastically took on this role. Scholars generally agree that Pope Julius' patronage was motivated by a desire to make the wealth and power of the Church obvious to everyone, an important message in an era characterized by continual warfare between European princes. By sponsoring expensive works of art, the wealth of the church was highly visible through statues, paintings, and architecture.

Pope Julius was interested in demonstrating the power of the church, but was just as interested in preserving his own image. Being a patron was seen as the mark of a great man, and Julius furthered this by creating parallels between the religious nature of the art he commissioned and his own piety.

In the Renaissance, commissioning art was often interpreted as giving a gift to the people of the city, since art uplifts and benefits all of society. Pope Julius was certainly trying to cultivate this image for himself as well. In fact, Pope Julius made sure that the public would recognize him and commissioned coins with his image, had himself included in major works of art, and even commissioned the great artist Raphael to complete a series of portraits of him.

Pope Julius also hired Michelangelo to create a massive marble tomb for the Pope to be used after his death. This tomb not only displayed the desire of Pope Julius to immortalize his legacy, but also his tenacity and power. When Michelangelo abandoned the project after a quarrel with other artists in Rome, Pope Julius threatened to send the papal armies to lay siege to Michelangelo's home of Florence.

Commissions of Julius II

In his efforts to immortalize both his own legacy and the power of the Catholic Church, Pope Julius commissioned several major works of art centered around the Vatican. One of the most notable examples of this was the rebuilding of Saint Peter's Basilica, the church that most of us simply refer to as 'the Vatican'. Pope Julius hired the architect Donato Bramante to redesign the basilica, partly because of Bramante's own reputation as a pious man of devout faith, a reputation Julius hoped would reflect onto the patron. Bramante's design fulfilled Pope Julius' hopes, forming a massive, extravagant, and awe-inspiring house of worship. Bramante's original designs were later altered by Michelangelo, giving it the form we see today.

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