Giulio II: da 'papa Guerriero' a 'papa Penitente'


  • Maria Forcellino KNIR



Rinascimento, scultura, monumento funebre, Roma, Michelangelo


Julius II from ‘Warrior Pope’ to ‘Penitent Pope’

This article discusses the commission and meaning of the tomb monument of Pope Julius II (1503-1513), with a focus on the statue representing the pope himself. In 1505, when Julius II ordered Michelangelo to make this monument, it was quite uncommon that a pope would commission his own tomb, as this was considered the duty of one or more family members. According to Michelangelo’s biographers, Vasari and Condivi, Julius II wanted an impressive, free standing monument, inspired by ancient mausoleums, to be placed in the new basilica of St. Peter, but a few years later Julius II seems to have changed his mind. After his death in 1513, his descendants took care of the tomb project, which in the end took forty years to complete and was finally erected in 1544, in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli.

The monument that was finally realized is actually a cenotaph and is an abbreviated version of the tomb as it was originally planned. It is not free standing, but is placed against the back wall of the right transept. Michelangelo’s interpretation of a funerary wall monument has resulted in a very original design, both architecturally and iconographically. He created an iconographic program with seven sculptures including two new religious figures, Active Life and Contemplative Life. On the top in the middle of the monument a statue (made between 1533 and 1542) represents Julius II in a singular pose, which approximates the demi-gisant type that was common in the years 1500-1530. An iconographic analysis of the statue, especially of the face and the ecclesiastical clothes, reveals that Julius II is characterized more as a ‘Penitent Pope’ than as the ‘Warrior Pope’ he historically was. The conclusion is that this specific portrayal of the pope was the artist’s choice rather than Julius’s. It reflects Michelangelo’s religious attitude and his spiritual believe in the final period of his life. 

Author Biography

Maria Forcellino, KNIR

Maria Forcellino si è laureata all’Università degli Studi di Salerno, si è specializzata in Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte a Siena, ed ha conseguito un libero dottorato all’Università di Amsterdam. Come ricercatrice dal 1995 al 2010 presso l’Università degli studi di Salerno ha svolto le sue ricerche e insegnato come Professore aggregato di Storia dell’Arte Moderna. Dal 2015 è non-resident fellow al Reale Istituto Olandese di Roma (KNIR) dove ha in corso una ricerca sul Grand Tour dei viaggiatori olandesi del Settecento, su cui ha in preparazione un volume di prossima pubblicazione. È membro del direttivo del Werkgroep Italië Studies (WIS) dal 2015. Suoi campi di ricerca sono il Settecento e il Rinascimento su cui ha pubblicato ampiamente. Sul monumento funebre di Giulio II di Michelangelo Buonarroti in particolare è intervenuta più volte, da ultimo nel 2014, in un volume specialistico a più mani pubblicato in diverse lingue.




How to Cite

Forcellino, M. (2017) “Giulio II: da ’papa Guerriero’ a ’papa Penitente’”, Incontri. Rivista europea di studi italiani, 32(2), pp. 26–43. doi: 10.18352/incontri.10215.