Pope Julius II Biography

Pope Julius II ordering art

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Pope Julius II was also known as Giuliano della Rovere. He also became known as "the warrior pope" and il papa terribile.

Pope Julius II was known for sponsoring some of the greatest artwork of the Italian Renaissance, including the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. Julius became one of the most powerful rulers of his time, and he was more concerned with political matters than theological ones. He was enormously successful in keeping Italy together politically and militarily. 

Important Dates

Born: Dec. 5, 1443
Elected Pope: Sept. 22, 1503
Crowned: Nov. 28, 1503
Died: Feb. 21, 1513

About Pope Julius II

Julius was born Giuliano della Rovere. His father Rafaello was from an impoverished but probably noble family. Rafaello's brother Francesco was a learned Franciscan scholar, who was made a cardinal in 1467. In 1468, Giuliano followed his uncle Francesco into the Franciscan order. In 1471, when Francesco became Pope Sixtus IV, he made his 27-year-old nephew a cardinal.

Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere

Giuliano showed no true interest in spiritual matters, but he enjoyed considerable income from three Italian bishoprics, six French bishoprics, and many abbeys and benefices bestowed on him by his uncle. He used much of his considerable wealth and influence to patronize artists of the day. He also became involved in the political side of the Church, and in 1480 he was made legate to France, where he acquitted himself well. As a result he built up influence among the clergy, particularly the College of Cardinals, although he also had rivals... including his cousin, Pietro Riario, and future pope Rodrigo Borgia.

The worldly cardinal may have had several illegitimate children, although only one is known for certain: Felice della Rovera, born sometime around 1483. Giuliano openly (though discreetly) acknowledged and provided for Felice and her mother, Lucrezia. 

When Sixtus died in 1484 he was followed by Innocent VIII; after Innocent's death in 1492, Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI. Giuliano had been considered favored to follow Innocent, and the pope may have seen him as a dangerous enemy because of it; in any case, he hatched a plot to assassinate the cardinal, and Giuliano was forced to flee to France. There he allied with King Charles VIII and accompanied him on an expedition against Naples, hoping that the king would depose Alexander in the process. When this failed, Giuliano stayed on in the French court. When Charles' successor Louis XII invaded Italy in 1502, Giuliano went with him, avoiding two attempts by the pope to seize him.

Giuliano finally returned to Rome when Alexander VI died in 1502. The Borgia pope was followed by Pius III, who lived only a month after taking the chair. With the help of some judicious simony, Giuliano was elected to succeed Pius on September 22, 1502. The first thing the new Pope Julius II did was to decree that any future papal election that had anything to do with simony would be invalid.

The pontificate of Julius II would be characterized by his involvement in military and political expansion of the Church as well as his patronage of the arts.

The Political Work of Pope Julius II

As pope, Julius gave the highest priority to the restoration of the Papal States. Under the Borgias, the Church lands had been notably diminished, and after the death of Alexander VI, Venice had appropriated large portions of it. In the fall of 1508, Julius conquered Bologna and Perugia; then, in the spring of 1509, he joined the League of Cambrai, an alliance among Louis XII of France, Emperor Maximilian I, and Ferdinand II of Spain against the Venetians. In May, troops of the league defeated Venice, and the Papal States were restored.

Now Julius sought to drive the French from Italy, but in this he was less successful. During the war, which lasted from autumn of 1510 to spring of 1511, some of the cardinals went over to the French and called a council of their own. In response, Julius forged an alliance with Venice and Ferdinand II of Spain and Naples, then called the fifth Lateran Council which condemned the actions of the rebellious cardinals. In April of 1512, the French defeated alliance troops at Ravenna, but when Swiss troops were sent to northern Italy to help the pope, the territories revolted against their French occupiers. Louis XII's troops left Italy, and the Papal States were increased by the addition of Piacenza and Parma.

Julius may have been more concerned with the recovery and expansion of papal territory, but in the process he helped forge an Italian national consciousness.

Pope Julius II's Sponsorship of the Arts

Julius wasn't a particularly spiritual man, but he was very interested in the aggrandizement of the papacy and the Church at large. In this, his interest in the arts would play an integral role. He had a vision and a plan to renew the city of Rome and make everything associated with the Church splendid and awe-inspiring.

The art-loving pope sponsored the construction of many fine buildings in Rome and encouraged the inclusion of new art in several notable churches. His work on antiquities in the Vatican Museum made it the greatest collection in Europe and he decided to build a new basilica of St. Peter, the foundation stone of which was laid in April of 1506. Julius also developed strong relationships with some of the foremost artists of the day, including Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo, all of whom executed multiple works for the demanding pontiff. 

Pope Julius II appears to have been more interested in the status of the papacy than his own personal fame; nevertheless, his name will be forever linked with some of the most remarkable artistic works of the 16th century. Although Michelangelo completed a tomb for Julius, the pope was instead interred in St. Peter's near his uncle, Sixtus IV.

More Pope Julius II Resources:

  • Julius II: The Warrior Popeby Christine ShawVisit merchant
    Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
    by Ross King
  • Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul IIby Richard P. McBrien
  • Chronicle of the Popes: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Papacy over 2000 Years
    by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart