Earthly Power and Prestige

The Tomb of Pope Julius II, completed by Michelangelo in 1545 after forty years of work

Tomb of Julius II

This large architectural project took Michelangelo and many assistants four decades to complete from the date of its commissioning. In fact, it was completed in a radically different form than originally envisioned over thirty years after its original patron died. This piece is an example of the challenges of being a Renaissance artist as described by Vasari, such as fickle, ever-changing patrons; Michelangelo and Pope Julius II fell out repeatedly (Wiesner-Hanks, 154).

The Tomb of Julius II is also an excellent example of the power and prestige that came with the papacy during the sixteenth century, being commissioned by the same pontiff who ordered the painting of the Sistine Chapel and the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica. Julius II was the last pre-Reformation pope. He is particularly known for his patronage of the arts, but the papacy throughout this period was a major financier of artistic endeavors by famous artisans like Michelangelo. 

Of course the temporal interests of the popes of this time extended beyond sculpture. Julius II has earned the moniker “Warrior Pope” for his constant campaigning as ruler of the lands of the Papal States. Revenues from these lands helped fund massive artistic endeavors such as the Tomb, although as Vasari often points out, payment by important persons like Julius II could often be greatly delayed making it to the artists (Vasari, np).