Julius II

November 1, 1503 - February 21, 1513




Family and Origin

Pope Julius II, was born Giuliano della Rovere in Albissola, near Savona.  His family was poor but had connections to nobility.



Giuliano's uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, arranged for him to be educated by the Franciscans in Perugia, where he studied law.



Before becoming Pope, Giuliano fathered several children.  He acknowledged a daughter, Felice, for whom he arranged a marriage with a member of the Orsini family, one of the most prominent families in Rome.





Under Sixtus IV

After his uncle was elected Pope Sixtus IV in 1471, Giuliano was made Cardinal of San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains) at the age of eighteen.  He was also awarded many benefices, which made him a rich man.  He was Archbishop of Avignon (in France) and held eight bishoprics.


While his uncle was pope, Giuliano had many assignments that enabled him to gain political and diplomatic experience and make contacts with important people.


In 1474, Giuliano was put in charge of the papal army to restore the pope's authority in Umbria.  This prepared him to take the field militarily to establish papal authority during his own pontificate.


In his service as a papal legate to France for four years, Giuliano proved to be a skillful negotiator, smoothing relations between the French king and the papacy.


Under Innocent VIII

After his uncle's death in 1484, Giuliano played a central role in the election of the next pope, Innocent VIII, promising future positions and benefices to other cardinals in exchange for an assurance of their vote for Cardinal Gianbattista Cibò.  He supported Cibò as pope because he thought he could direct papal policy through him, and indeed, it was through his influence that the papacy's conflict with King Ferdinand I of Naples escalated.


Under Alexander VI

During Giuliano's years as a cardinal, he and Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia developed a great antipathy for each other.  Because unfortunate and often fatal things happened to enemies of the Borgias, Giuliano spent much of Pope Alexander VI's pontificate in France.


Motivated by a desire to see King Charles VIII of France depose Pope Alexander, Giuliano urged the French king to invade Italy and claim Naples.  (Alexander, who befriended King Charles' minister Briconnet with the offer of a cardinalate, appeased the king by guaranteeing safe passage of the French army through the Papal States and giving him custody of a desirable prisoner, the Turkish Sultan's brother Djem.)


In matters of negotiations with the French, Giuliano did serve the pope in 1498 by arranging for Cesare Borgia to marry a French princess and receive the title of Duke of Valentinois in exchange for the pope granting the French king a divorce.





Bribery for Votes

During the 26-day pontificate of Pope Pius III, Giuliano lined up support for his future election by bribing the other cardinals with promises of benefices and other favors.


Concessions to Cardinal-Electors

Giuliano also made promises to the cardinals regarding foreign policy and Church reform.  For example, he agreed that before going to war or creating new cardinals, the pope would obtain the support of two-thirds of the cardinals.


Once Giuliano was elected pope, promises of power-sharing were soon forgotten.


Appeasement of Cesare Borgia

Giuliano appeased Pope Alexander's son Cesare Borgia, who controlled much territory in central and northern Italy, with false promises about making him captain of the papal forces and helping him to keep the land he removed from the Papal States during his father's pontificate.


Quick and Unanimous Election

Because the electors had been bought beforehand, Giuliano's election was unanimous and the shortest in history.





The Name "Julius"

Giuliano's selection of the name "Julius" was probably intended to recall Julius Caesar, the great ancient Roman conqueror and political leader whose policies brought stability to the Mediterranean.  Giuliano's militancy in establishing control over the Papal States made this an apt choice.


Leadership of Army

Like his predecessor Alexander VI, Pope Julius was not shy about using military force to achieve his ends.  But, unlike Alexander, who appointed his son Cesare to lead the papal army, Pope Julius led the papal army himself.



The pope focused on the attainment of temporal power for the papacy as a political body.


Controlling the Papal States. Pope Julius' primary objective was to regain control of the entire Papal States.


Expelling Foreign Occupiers. Although as Cardinal della Rovere, Giuliano had encouraged the French to enter the Italian peninsula in order to serve his own political end, as Pope Julius II, he wished to rid Italy of foreign occupiers, especially the French, who held parts of northern Italy.





Local Despots Controlling Many Cities

Although the Papal States were theoretically under papal control, the governance of many cities had been taken over by local despots during the papacy's forty-year move to Avignon.


Borgia Territory

The Borgia pope gave parts of the papal territory to members of his family, with the majority going to Cesare, whom he named the Duke of Romagna.  Romagna, which is called Emilia-Romagna today, is the region between Tuscany and northern Italy.


Although before his election, Julius agreed that Cesare could keep his territory, he later saw Cesare as an impediment to his goal of uniting the Papal States under his authority.  After Cesare refused to surrender control, Pope Julius arranged with King Ferdinand of Aragon for Cesare's removal from Italy.  Cesare was arrested in Naples and imprisoned in Spain.


Conquest of Perugia and Bologna

In 1506, Julius led the papal army against local dictators in Perugia and Bologna.  These cities were later claimed by the French.





Cities Held by Venice

The most serious challenge to papal control over the Papal States was from Venice, who claimed many cities in the Romagna at the beginning of Julius' pontificate.


Temporary Settlement with Venice in 1505

In 1505, the pope reached a temporary settlement with the Venetians in which Venice restored part of the papal territory but held onto Rimini and Faenza.


Participation in League of Cambrai

To gain allies against Venice in 1509, the pope joined the League of Cambrai, which was founded by Venice's foreign enemies, Emperor Maximilian of the Holy Roman Empire and Louis XII of France, to check Venetian expansion into the Italian mainland.


The pope also placed Venice under interdict, cutting the city and its inhabitants off from participation in the church and signaling that politically they were not supported by the papacy.


At the battle of Agnadello in May 1509, the French, with the assistance of the papal forces and other allies, defeated the Venetians decisively and forced them to surrender Rimini and Faenza.





Use of Excommunication and Interdict

Although papal troops had fought with the French against the Venetians at Agnadello, Julius quickly turned against his allies in the interest of his larger goal of freeing the Italian peninsula from foreign rulers.  The pope's first strike against King Louis XII was the 1510 deposition and excommunication of the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d'Este, who supported the French.


The pope also placed France under interdict.


Church Council at Tours

King Louis responded by calling on the French bishops to meet in a council at Tours in 1510.  The Council asserted that the pope had no right to go to war with foreign princes and that if he did, they could attack the Papal States.  The Council further resolved to seek the pope's deposition.  Pope Julius ignored them.


Alliance with Venetians and Swiss

Although he was unable to get help from the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the pope was successful in getting the Venetians and the Swiss to fight with him against the French.


The pope fought the French at Bologna, where France had re-installed the city's former rulers, the Bentivoglio family, to maintain order and collect taxes.  Resistance was strong, and had it not been for the arrival of the Venetians, the pope might have been captured.  Nine days after the pope's departure from Bologna in 1511, however, the French retook the city.


Schismatic Council at Pisa

Five Italian cardinals who were unhappy about Pope Julius' anti-French policy held a meeting in Pisa in 1511 to call for his deposition.  They were supported by both the French king and the emperor.  The pope ignored this council and stripped the cardinals of their rank, which was re-instated under the next pope, Leo X.


The pope countered the action of the Pisan council the following year by convening the fifth Lateran council in Rome, which condemned the Pisan Council's resolutions.


Formation of Holy League

To get help in driving the French from Italy in 1511, the pope formed the Holy League.  This alliance initially included the Venetians and King Ferdinand of Aragon, but later, the emperor, the Swiss, and Henry VIII of England joined.


The Holy League was victorious at Ravenna in 1512, and with the ouster of the French, the League members divided the cities held by them.  The pope added several cities including Parma to the Papal States.


The Holy League dissolved after Julius' death in 1513, and the French again controlled Lombardy.





Banned Simony in Papal Elections

In 1505 Pope Julius issued a bull banning simony (buying or selling church offices) in papal elections and declaring elections based on the practice to be invalid.


Founded the First Dioceses in New World

Pope Julius established the first dioceses in the New World at Haiti, San Domingo, and Porto Rico.


Instituted Cappella Giulia

The pope established the Cappella Giulia, a group of singers who were permanently attached to St. Peter's.  They acted as a school for teaching ecclesiastic chant and provided, along with the Cappella Sistina established by his uncle Sixtus IV, music for services.  This institution still exists.


Instituted Monastic Reforms

Pope Julius, who was educated by the Franciscans, made reforms in the regulations governing the orders.


Called Fifth Lateran Council in 1512

In 1512, Pope Julius called an ecumenical (all-church) council in Rome known as Lateran V.  Its primary resolution at that time was the condemnation of the action of the cardinals who met in Pisa the year before to call for the pope's deposition.


It was the dissolution of this council five years later under Julius' successor, Pope Leo X, that triggered the beginning of the Reformation.  When the council was closed in 1517 without reforming the Church's many corrupt practices, Luther posted his 95 Theses.





Political Achievement

At his death in 1513, Pope Julius II was hailed for having regained cities in the Papal States that had been held by the Venetians and for having driven the French out of Northern Italy.


Art Patronage

As a patron of the arts, Julius was almost without equal.  Several of his projects are among the greatest works of art and architecture of all time.


Lack of Spiritual Leadership

Like many of the popes of the fifteenth century, Julius was more concerned with politics and temporal power than with the spiritual leadership of the Church.


Failure to Instigate Reform

Although Julius' pontificate was not marked by the conspicuous nepotism and licentiousness of some of his predecessors, he shared the blame attached to them for not having instituted reforms of the Church's corrupt practices.  The absence of reforms in conjunctions with lavish spending on church projects in Rome were among the principal causes of the subsequent Reformation.


The discontent felt in Northern Europe was hardly a secret and the availability of printing enabled critics to voice their discontent in religious tracts and other publications.  The Dutch humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam satirized Pope Julius in his famous work, In Praise of Folly (1511).





Concurrence with High Renaissance

Pope Julius' pontificate coincided with the beginning of the High Renaissance, and he employed three of its four greatest masters.  Bramante was already in Rome, but it was Julius who brought Michelangelo and Raphael to Rome and the Vatican.


Commissions to Michelangelo

The relationship between Pope Julius and Michelangelo, which spanned nine years and several projects, was a tempestuous one.


Tomb of Pope Julius, San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, 1505-45. Pope Julius commissioned Michelangelo to make an elaborate multi-figure, freestanding, three-tier tomb.  The tomb was the subject of much rancor between Michelangelo and the pope, and later, between Michelangelo and Julius' heirs.  The final tomb was a much smaller wall tomb.  Although it had originally been intended for St. Peter's, it was installed finally in San Pietro in Vincoli, which had been the titular church of both Julius and his uncle when they were cardinals.  Michelangelo completed only three statues for the tomb: Rachel, Leah, and the central figure of Moses, whose look of passion and intensity are believed to mirror Pope Julius' defining qualities.  


Bronze statue of Pope (destroyed), 1507-8. After taking Bologna in 1506, Pope Julius ordered a three times life-size bronze statue of himself and had it mounted on one of Bologna’s city gates.  The statue was later melted and made into a cannon by the Bentivoglio family, who Julius had overthrown.  This cannon was popularly known as "La Giulia."  


Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Vatican, 1508-12. When the Sistine Chapel ceiling had to be repaired, Julius decided to replace the old decoration of blue sky and stars with a fresco cycle of Old Testament scenes by Michelangelo. Oak imagery referring to the della Rovere family was used in many places.


Commissions to Raphael

In 1508, Pope Julius brought Raphael to Rome to decorate part of the Vatican Palace.


Stanze, Vatican, begun 1508. Pope Julius commissioned Raphael to fresco the Stanza della Segnatura, which most likely functioned as the pope's library at that time.  The frescoed scenes, which include the famous School of Athens and Disputà, feature likenesses of the pope and other members of his family in the guise of historical characters.  The success of this room led Julius to commission the decoration of the Stanza d'Eliodoro, another of the four rooms known as the Stanze, which are located on the third story of the Nicholas V Wing. Raphael's assistants on this project included Giovanni Penni and Giulio Romano.  


Portrait of Pope Julius II, c.1512. In his famed portrait of the aging Julius, Raphael depicted the pope seated in an armchair in front of a rich green tapestry backdrop.  The pope's chair is turned diagonally from the picture plane, and he gazes down and out of the picture, a powerful man rendered pensive by age and experience.  The beard represents a pledge he made not to shave until he had rid Italy of foreign occupiers.  The finials rising from the corners of the chair back are carved as cap-side-down acorns, which refer to the della Rovere family. 


Sistine Madonna, 1513-14. Pope Julius commissioned Raphael to paint an altarpiece for San Sisto at Piacenza, which was the main church dedicated to Saint Sixtus.  The painting was presented to the city of Piacenza as a token of Julius' appreciation for the city's help in driving the French out of northern Italy.  The painting is known as the Sistine Madonna because the figure on the left, whose face has Pope Julius' features, is Saint Sixtus, the patron saint of the della Rovere family. 


Commissions to Bramante

The pope appointed Bramante to be the minister of public works in Rome and assigned him several major projects at the Vatican and in Rome.  Because the work was at a relatively early stage when Bramante died, just eleven years into the project, little was completed as originally designed and most of what he did build was altered.


Belvedere Court, Vatican Palace, begun 1505. The pope commissioned Bramante to design a thousand-foot long terraced courtyard known as the Belvedere Court to connect the Vatican Palace with the Villa Belvedere. Although it is not a villa in the usual sense of the term, it included a number of features that became mainstays of sixteenth-century villa architecture like terracing and the use of focal points along the central axis.  The current exedra replaced Bramante's original exedra, which contained a concentrically designed staircase.  To vary the pattern of the long expanse of arcading, which provided galleries for antique statuary, two forms were used:  a simple column-on-pier form on the lower and middle terraces and a complex pattern invented by Bramante that was called a travata ritmica.  


St. Peter's, Rome, begun 1506. Julius II commissioned Bramante to design a new church to replace Old St. Peter's.  Although earlier popes, such as Nicholas V, had commissioned additions and alterations to the structure of Old St. Peter's, Julius II was the first to take the decisive step of beginning the demolition of the damaged structure.  Bramante's first plan for the new church is known from a medal and from a partial plan known as the parchment plan.  These two plans roughly correspond in having a number of distinct parts in common.  Bramante based the lateral distance between the crossing piers on the width of the nave of Old St. Peter's.  By clipping the inner corners of the crossing piers to make them essentially triangular in section, Bramante expanded the size of the square whose width defined the diameter of the dome.  This produced a dome that was wider than the nave, but, unlike medieval wider-than-nave domes, required only four piers.  Bramante's design for a solid-core hemispherical dome is known from one of the drawings in Serlio's Architettura.  The interior was articulated as a single huge story by the use of the colossal order on the massive crossing piers.  The most contentious issue regarding Bramante's plan is the question of whether he intended to build a centrally-planned church or a longitudinal one.  Both the parchment plan and the medal are ambiguous on this point, and later designs appear to vacillate between the two options.  Bramante had created the ideal Renaissance centrally-planned church in his Tempietto, and he certainly approved of the form.  However, such a design would have created liturgical problems and may have been seen as too pagan for the central church of Christendom. 


Vatican Palace Façade, Rome, begun 1509. To give it a more formal, unified entrance, the pope commissioned Bramante to design an entrance façade for the Vatican Palace.  Its three stories of loggias were later filled in and a fourth story was added by the next pope.  With the construction of wings beside and across from it, the façade became part of the Courtyard of S. Damaso.  


Choir and apse of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, begun c. 1508. Pope Julius II commissioned Bramante to enlarge the choir and apse of Santa Maria del Popolo, which was built by his uncle Pope Sixtus IV in the previous century.


Santa Casa, Loreto. The pope commissioned Bramante to design the Santa Casa (Holy House), a stone enclosure for the legendary house of the Virgin at a sanctuary at Loreto.


City Planning

Pope Julius saw to the repairing of many streets, bridges, and aqueducts and commissioned the construction of two new streets, which run parallel to each other on opposite sides of the Tiber just south of the Vatican.  The one on the Vatican side is the Via Lungara and the one on the city side is the Via Giulia, which is one of the few genuinely Renaissance streets left in Rome.











Renaissance Popes 9 of 20





Raphael's Portrait of Pope Julius II