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Tomb of Pope Julius II | Michelangelo’s Design

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In 1505, Pope Julius II entrusted Michelangelo with designing his funerary monument, called today “The Tomb of Pope Julius II.” The artist could hardly have imagined that he would not have completed the project until four decades later. When the pontiff was already dead.

The image of the tomb of Popa Julius II shows the lower part of the entire structure – composed of two levels – the center of which is occupied by a statue of Moses. 

This was one of the most ambitious projects of the Florentine genius, conceived by himself as his great work. However, after numerous setbacks, including the artist’s dismissal and re-hiring, the work never followed the lines of the original design.

How did Michelangelo portray Pope Julius II in the statue?

Pope Julius II was a very special pope from the Della Rovere family. He was always at the head of his armies and was also called the Warrior Pope.

When Michelangelo depicted him in a statue, Julius II was puzzled to find a Bible under his arm. What have I got to do with the Bible? I’m a warrior. You better put a sword there.

In his great megalomania, he wanted a funerary monument like no one had before to be called: the Tomb of Pope Julius II.

What did Pope Julius II order Michelangelo to do?

The Pope, for his part, had a solid and irascible character, hence the strained relations between the two. Michelangelo indulged in things that no other artist would have allowed himself, risking, by his behavior, even provoking a diplomatic incident between Rome and Florence.

Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to coffin the tomb… Three floors, 40 statues… He also chose a fitting location: right over St Peter’s tomb.

Bramante got Michelangelo on the pipe and got Julius to get the Florentine to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, only to delay the completion of the monument.

Tomb of Pope Julius II

Where was the location of the Julius II monument changed?

With each renegotiation of the contract, the Julius monument went underwater. First, a floor was dropped, then it became parietal (leaning against the wall), and the number of statues was cut.

Finally, the location of the Julius II monument was also changed. From the center of St Peter’s cathedral, the monument ended up in the corner of the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, where the pope had been cardinal.

For all its tinkering, Julius’ monument is a masterpiece. But Julius didn’t have it. His earthly remains now lie beneath a modest stone in St Peter’s Cathedral.

The evolution of Michelangelo’s work

Detested as a person and careless as a lifestyle, reckless to the point of rudeness with those who did not interest him, Michelangelo worked without a break, absorbed in his creative frenzy. When he was working, he even forgot to eat or sleep, often continuing into the night, when he could paint with a cardboard hat in which he placed a candle: an ingenious system which, curiously, links him to another ‘deviant’ genius who lived long after him: the painter Van Gogh, who adopted and perfected this stratagem to produce his extraordinary nocturnal paintings. Genius and despair are universal and timeless.

The evolution of the orders for this impressive work has been long and unfair:

1504 – The initial contract between Michelangelo and Julius II.

1505 – The tomb was to be magnificent with three floors and forty figures (Enslaved people on the lower level of the “earthly world.” Moses foreseen in the right corner on the second floor. Representing the “heavenly world”).

1506 – When Michelangelo arrived in Rome with the marble blocks he had personally chosen from Carrara. For the mausoleum of Julius II, a commission that the Pope had placed. But no longer a priority, he is forced to wait a long time in the antechamber of the Pontiff, who was never willing to receive him in the audience. Finally, exasperated, the artist tells His Holiness if he wishes to see him. He should come to him and look for him and then flees to Florence.

Primary Takeaways

  • In 1505, Pope Julius II summoned him to Rome and commissioned him to build a monumental mausoleum, classically combining architecture and sculpture.
  • There was a 40-year delay in the execution of the tomb of Pope Julius II (where the Moses sculpture is);. However, he had initially received a considerable amount of money for the project; the pope died shortly after Michelangelo contracted the work. And in the meantime, other ambitious works appeared that the artist would not have wanted to refuse. As they meant fame and additional and different money earned. 
  • “You can’t get along with him!” – complained Julius II, considering Michelangelo a tough, moody, rude, proud, irritable, and stubborn man.


If, at first, the Pope wanted a tomb for the Medici family. After a while, he ordered him to cast a colossal bronze statue, even though the artist told him he was not good at casting. Two years of turmoil, torment and untold hardship followed. He barely had time to eat. “I live in the most significant distress and need. 

It is the work of a giant,” he wrote to his brother. The relations between the Pope and Michelangelo are of such a nature. That one would rather believe that the great potentate wanted to torment him… The more Michelangelo submitted to the whims. Trying to surpass the Pope’s wishes, the more the Pope devised other plans. To bring down the giant who wanted to humiliate the pride of force.

Incidentally, Pope Julius II does not rest beneath his valuable monument. But in St Peter’s Basilica, in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, next to his uncle Sixtus IV.