Some of the greatest works of art ever created were not entirely the inspiration of the artists usually credited with making them but that of others--great leaders, great thinkers, men and women of great wealth. Sometimes these individuals have a footnote in the story surrounding the great work of art. Sometimes, they're all but unknown. Did you ever wonder whose idea it was to have Leonardo paint his "Last Supper?" Who was the heroic model for Michelangelo's "David?" Who commissioned Picasso to paint "Guernica?" Sometimes however, the force behind the artist is almost as much a part of the work as the artists himself. An interesting case in point would be Giulano Della Rovere. He was born in 1443 at Albrissola in Italy. His family was poor. As a teenage, he became a Franciscan. A bright, feisty young man, he embraced the church with both his intellect and his own dynamic personality, making the most of one of the few pathways to a better life during the fifteenth century. In 1471, his fortunes made a dramatic improvement. His uncle, Francesco della Rovere, was elected Pope!
As popes go, Uncle Francesco wasn't much of a pope. Taking on the name, Sixtus IV, he built a bridge across the Tiber connecting the Vatican to greater Rome (not that the city was very "great" at the time). He also built the Sistine chapel--a crude, ungainly structure, as much a fortress as a church. On the negative side, he might be said to have given nepotism a bad name. He made quite a number of Rovere relatives cardinals; and invited them to Rome where, for the most part, they did little more than feast on church wealth and dabble in church politics. Giulano, at the age of 28, was one of these new young Cardinals. However when it came to church politics, he was much more than just a dabbler. He became a powerful force to be reckoned with. During the next 22 years, he was ALMOST elected pope himself, TWICE before finally succeeding to the office in 1503. He chose the name, Julius II. And neither art, nor the Catholic Church, has not been the same since.
Julius II is often known as the "warrior pope" and it's a distinction well taken. During his ten-year papacy his various military endeavors on behalf of the Papal States nearly bankrupt the church. However it was just this militant side of his character that was responsible for marshaling the efforts of three of the greatest artistic geniuses in the history of art--Bramante the architect, Michelangelo the sculptor, and Raphael the painter. Along with Bramante, he took the dramatic step of order up a new church, literally built around and over top of the old St. Peter's Basilica. Along with Michelangelo, in one of the most grandiose gestures of egoism in the history of art, he planned his own tomb, to be the centerpiece of this new church, centered under the magnificent dome, a massive rectilinear pyramid to have some forty sculptural works crawling all over its surface. And with Raphael, he conspired to implant a new humanism in the painted decoration of the walls of his magnificent palace. Not everything turned out as he planned of course. The church wasn't finished until 130 years after his death. His magnificent tomb ended up being merely a wall decoration in an obscure church on the far side of Rome, and both he and Raphael died before they could truly unleash the full force of their combined inspiration on the wall plaster of his great church. But whatever might be said regarding his tyranical tactics or his magnified ego, Julius II must be accorded his place as one of the greatest creative forces in the history of art.