Art In History Art Blog
by art_in_history , October 17, 2007—12:00 AM
The role and influence of artists patronage through history is a fascinating subject, and one which may have lessons for the artists and patrons of today. In the following article I will be looking at the impact of the great Renaissance Pope, Julius II, on the artists of his time, an influence which clearly was a mixed blessing, particularly for Michelangelo.
The Renaissance in Italy was the period in which the primary role of the church as patronage for the arts was challenged by the rising influence of the nobility. It seems at first that Pope Julius II would represent a continuation of the influence of the church in art patronage, and on one level this is true. However, it is also the period when the rivalry of the great families in Italy -- Colonna, Barberini, Medici, Della Rovere -- expressed itself in part in vying for the papal throne. It is clear that when Pope Julius ascended to the papacy in 1503 it was a triumph for his house, and that as pope he behaved as much as the Scion of his family, Della Rovere, as he did as the head of his church.
!IMAGE163!In fact, Pope Julius saw himself as a successor the great Roman emperors of the past, and -- like Augustus -- wanted to be seen as "inheriting a city of brick and leaving behind a city of marble". He also wished to put his aristocratic rivals in the shade.
At the time of Julius' succession, the most powerful patron of the arts in Italy was Lorenzo de' Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent. He had made Florence unquestionably the artistic capital of the Italian peninsula, and had gathered around him the greatest Italian artists of his time, most notably Leonardo and Michelangelo. At that time Lorenzo had commissioned Michelangelo to create the Medici tomb, which in addition to being an ambitious tour de force or architecture and sculpture, was an obvious declaration of the status of the Medici family.
Julius II did whatever he could to frustrate and delay this project by commanding Michelangelo, as the head of his church, to come to Rome and work for him. He called him to take over the design and management of the new basilica of St. Peters from Raphael, who had been called to Rome in his turn. Again, he set him to the decoration of the magnificent new papal apartments, most notably the Sistine Chapel. It is clear from comments he made that Michelangelo did these things with reluctance, complaining bitterly to Lorenzo of his frustration at being unable to complete his commission for him. Michelangelo's first love was sculpture, and for many of his best years he was unable to pursue it. But ultimately he felt unable to refuse the pope. Thus the role of Julius II as Michelangelo's patron was a bittersweet thing, and we can ask whether the influence was on balance beneficial or destructive. Without the machinations of the pope, we would be left without the Sistine ceiling, now generally considered to be Michelangelo's greatest accomplishment, as well as his design for St. Peters, with its magnificent dome. But in the other side, in addition to the serious impact these projects had on Michelangelo's health and well-being, we have the question of how much more he might have produced as, arguably, the greatest sculptor in the history of Western art.
Though there is no possibility that the total power of Julius II as a patron can be reproduced in today's world, his example still raises questions about what the role of a patron should be with respect to the artists he supports. Should the artist be a tool to realize the patron's vision, perhaps leading the artist to heights he would otherwise not have achieved? OR should his role be as a facilitator, simply to make possible the flowering of the artist's own vision?