Anti-social Artist vs. Warrior Pope: Michelangelo and Julius II

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m in the midst of reading Ross King‘s Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling in preparation for a trip to Rome in April.  I’ve been keeping a list of fascinating facts as I read, and I was planning to write a Top 5 list when I finished, but I’m halfway through and already the list is long.  So I started to write the Top 5 for the first half, but I hit 1100 words after the first three and decided I’ll just do a separate post for each one to keep it brief(er).

Michelangelo and Pope Julius II on a good day.

Michelangelo and Pope Julius II on a good day.

1. Relationship with the Pope.  Based on the title of the book, it should be no surprise that there was tension between the artist and the pontiff.  What is surprising is the degree to which the Pope gave in to Michelangelo’s demands.  I mean, Pope Julius II was not the peaceful shepherd that is Pope Francis I.  When Julius wanted to bring the Papal States that had either gone rogue or been taken over by foreign rulers back into his pontifical fold, he sent out an army and rode at the head of it — armed — himself.  They called him the Warrior Pope.  He had a nasty temper and beat messengers who brought him bad news…and sometimes hurt those who brought good news by clapping them on the back with pleasure.  He first brought Michelangelo to Rome to work on his ostentatious tomb, but then he had a change of heart and sent him packing.  And then he wanted him back, but Michelangelo said no.  After several pleas, the Pope finally resorted to an ultimatum, and, reluctantly, Michelangelo returned, but not to resume work on the tomb: he was brought back to to fresco the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which had been damaged due to a shoddy foundation — despite the fact that he was a sculptor and not a frescoist.  Even so, he agreed.  Not long after he started work, he was forced to get a little testy with the Pope: he told Julius to butt out and stop being such a micromanager.  Said he knew what to paint, and that the Pope was going to have to trust him.  His reputation must have been astounding, because the Warrior Pope did back off.  Later, as the months went by and he couldn’t see the ceiling due to the canvas that stretched across the chapel sixty feet below the workspace (meant to keep any drippings from interrupting a Mass or making a mess), Julius attempted on several occasions to sneak up the scaffolding to get a look at what was going on.  He even donned disguises.  How could such a powerful pope be kept at bay for so long?  Answer: Michelangelo was, oddly, just as powerful.

What Is Your Favorite Work Of Art?

It has occurred to me that Michelangelo might be my favorite artist.  I’ll be in Rome with students in April, so I’m reading Ross King’s Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling.  I’m loving all the minutiae about the creation of the Sistine Chapel, from detailed information about pigments (did you know ‘ultramarine’ is so called because it describes the place far from the sea (as the name suggests) — Afghanistan! — where the lapis is quarried that’s used to make it), to the political intrigues surrounding Pope Julius II (The Warrior Pope!) and the office politics of the renaissance art world.

Halfway through the book, I realize that I’m enjoying it as much as I am because I love the Sistine Chapel.  I’ve seen it twice in my life and both times I stood there in the crowd, looking up at its immensity and grandeur, and I swooned like the heroine of a Victorian novel; it quite literally took my breath away.  So did the statue of David (and the gallery of figures emerging from the marble leading up to it).  Van Gogh and Chagall rank highly in my esteem as well, but Michelangelo…no lie: I swooned.

And I can’t wait to do it again.

So have you swooned before a work of art?  Even if you haven’t, what would you say is your favorite work and why?

*swoon*

*swoon*