Julius II, Pope


Julius II, Pope
(Giuliano della Rovere, ca. 1445-1513; pope from 1503)
   Giuliano's uncle Francesco provided for his education and upon being elected pope (Sixtus IV) in 1471 made Giuliano a cardinal and soon conferred on him many valuable benefices. He acted as papal ambassador on several occasions, but his most obvious talent was as an administrator and military commander, beginning with his service as legate in the province of Umbria in the Papal States. Giuliano had considerable influence over his uncle's successor, Pope Innocent VIII. With the next pope, Alexander VI (1492-1503), he had a poor relationship and eventually withdrew to France. He was one of those who encouraged King Charles VIII to undertake the invasion of Naples in 1494 that precipitated a series of political crises and wars in Italy that lasted for more than half a century. His strong personality and reputation for aggressive defense of the papacy's political claims was the basis for his own election as pope in 1503, and he even exceeded the expectations of the cardinals who supported him.
   Julius is known as "the warrior pope," engaging in a complex set of diplomatic and military adventures that threw most of Italy into turmoil but generally advanced the temporal power of the papacy. His assertive personality and militarism were sharply criticized in the famous satire Julius exclusus, published anonymously but usually attributed to the Dutch humanist Erasmus. Julius called the last general council of the Latin church to meet before the Reformation, the Fifth Lateran Council, which met in Rome and continued under Julius's successor, Leo X. Although his private life was far more respectable than that of his predecessor Alexander VI, and his warlike actions were aimed at extending the political authority of the papacy in Italy rather than at exploiting papal power in the interests of his own kin, Julius did continue the tendency of Renaissance popes to function as secular leaders at the expense of their pastoral responsibilities.
   Julius' historical significance probably rests more on his actions as a patron of the arts at the peak of the Renaissance than on his work as a spiritual or even a political leader. His major commissions were the construction of the Belvedere courtyard in the Vatican, designed by Donato Bramante; the paintings by Raphael in the papal apartments, notably The School of Athens; and the work that may well be the high point of Renaissance painting, the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted at the pope's insistence by a reluctant Michelangelo. The Sistine ceiling was completed in 1512. Michelangelo's sculptural project for the pope's tomb was never finished on account of the great cost, and only one of the parts completed, the statue Moses, was finished by Michelangelo's own hand. Julius also made the decision to tear down the ancient basilica of St. Peter and to replace it with a gigantic church built in the Renaissance central-dome style, designed by Bramante and begun in 1506, though not completed until the following century and considerably modified by several later architects. The famous portrait of the pope by Raphael (1511-1512) captures the personality of the elderly but still energetic and strong-willed pontiff.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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