Why is Pope Julius II important?

Pope Julius II is known as the greatest art patron of the papal line. He was nicknamed ‘The Warrior Pope,’ and was seen as one of the most powerful rulers of his age.

Pope Julius II was head of the Roman Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 1503 to his death in 1513. He chose his papal name, not in honour of Pope Julius I, but in emulation of Julius Caesar. Julius II is known to be a causing contributor to the reformation, as his focus on the arts and politics alienated northern Europe. He is still one of the most famous Pope’s throughout history, as he is responsible for some of the best tourist destinations in all of Italy.

Before Being Pope

Originally named Giuliano Della Rovere, Julius II was born in 1443 to a noble but poor family. He was tutored by his uncle, who would go on to become Pope Sixtus IV in 1471. Due to this connection, Guilano was elected as the Cardinal-Priest of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. Giuliano had many attempts at gaining power. After his uncle’s death, Giuliano bribed electors to initiate Cardinal Cibo as Pope Innocent VIII. Giuliano was able to control Innocent VIII easily throughout his reign, which lasted eight years until 1492. After Innocent VIII’s death, Giuliano tried to become Pope but was rejected due to the cardinals disapproving of his past control of power. Instead, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia was appointed, becoming Pope Alexander VI until his death in 1503. During this time Giuliano left the city in exile, like Alexander VI and he were enemies. Alexander VI’s successor Pius III only lasted 26 days as Pope before he too passed. Giuliano finally was able to become Pope Julius II in 1503, after heavily bribing the Cardinals. Immediately after his election, he decreed that all future simoniacal papal elections would be invalid and subject to penalty.

The Warrior Pope

Julius’s main goal on becoming Pope was to reinstate the papal states to their former glory, as they had fallen into ruin thanks to the Borgias. To achieve this Julius II used warfare. He first conquered Perugia and Bologna in the autumn of 1508, and then in March 1509, he joined the League of Cambrai, an anti-Venetian alliance. The league troops defeated Venice in May 1509 and the Papal States were restored. From extending the papacy’s power as the dominant political and military force and confiscating the landholdings of Cesare Borgia, Julius II sought to free all of Italy from the French and stop the rebellion of local lords. This was the motivation for his second war – to drive the French from Italy. But this war, which lasted from 1510 – 1511 was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, by 1513, his objective to make the Papacy the main force in the Italian Wars was achieved. And so, whilst Julius may have been more concerned with the recovery and expansion of papal territory, he did in the process help forge an Italian national consciousness. It is no wonder that he is depicted as a soldier-type figure.

A Patron of the Arts

As we have discovered, Julius II was not a particularly spiritual man…But he was very interested in the art world and in creating a visual masterpiece within the Catholic Church. His name is therefore closely linked with those of such great artists as Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo. With his wealth and visionary ideas, he contributed to their creativity. The art-loving Pope sponsored the construction of many fine buildings in Rome and encouraged the inclusion of new art in several notable churches. He laid the groundwork for the Vatican Museum by making it one of the greatest collections in Europe. This has led him to become famously known as one of the greatest investors of the arts out of all the past and present Popes in Italy. He was known to inspire great artistic creations, commissioning masterpieces from great artists such as Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Majority of these great artists best-known works were commissioned by Julius II. For example, he was the one to elect that Michelangelo should paint the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. He also appointed Raphael to create the four Raphael’s Rooms, as well as asking Bramante to construct new basilica for St. Peter’s. He was so close to some of these masters, that Julius II became Michelangelo’s intellectual collaborator.

It is said that Julius wanted Rome to become a new Jerusalem and a new Athens, hence why he compelled three artistic geniuses to realise and share in his vision.

To see the works collected, commissioned and envisioned by Pope Julius II, visit the Vatican City for yourself, and explore the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and more on our popular Vatican Museums Tour today!

Language »