Portrait of Pope Julius II
Portrait of Pope Julius II is an oil portrait of 1511–12 by the Italian High Renaissance painter Raphael. It has 101 x 83 cm dimensions, and you can find the artwork in Room IX of the Borghese Gallery.
The portrait of Pope Julius II was bizarre for its time and would carry a prolonged impact on papal portraiture. From early in its life, it was uncommonly hung at the pillars of the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, on the main route from the north into Rome, on the feast and high holy days. Giorgio Vasari, composing long after Julius’ passing, said that “it was so lifelike and true it frightened everybody who saw it as if it were the living man himself.”
The portrait exists in numerous adaptations and duplicates. For many years, a version of the painting that presently hangs within the Uffizi Gallery in Florence was accepted as the original or prime adaptation, but in 1970 opinion shifted. Therefore, the initial is accepted as the version found in the National Exhibition, London.
This is a copy after the celebrated portrait by Raphael now in the National Gallery in London. The original painting was executed by Raphael in 1511-12 for the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, from where it was removed in 1591 by Cardinal Sfondrato, who sold it to Rudolf II
It was then purchased in 1608 by Cardinal Borghese, together with another sixty-nine artworks. However, the copy’s provenance is unknown. Although Friedrich Ramdhor mentioned it in 1787, it was first listed in the fidei-comissium of 1833 with an ascription to Giulio Romano, meaning it became part of the Borghese collection at a late date.
This is one of eleven copies of this painting. Portrayed in three-quarters profile to the right, seated in an armchair, the pope is wearing a mozzetta over his cassock, and he has a velvet cap. Previous Papal representations showed them frontally or kneeling in profile. It was too “extraordinary” at this period to show the sitter so evidently in a specific mood – here lost in thought.
The intimacy of this picture was uncommon in Papal portraiture, but got to be the model, “what became virtually a formula”, taken after by most future painters, including Sebastiano del Piombo and Diego Velázquez. The portray established a sort for papal representations that persevered for around two centuries
The portrait can be dated between June 1511 and March 1512, when Julius let his beard grow as a sign of mourning for the loss in the war of the city of Bologna.
Raphael had also included fresco portraits of the bearded Julius, representing prior popes, within the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican Palace, in the Mass at Bolsena, with portraits of his daughter Felice della Rovere and Raphael himself within the same group, and in the portray representing Jurisprudence round a window in the Stanza della Segnatura, as well as in the Sistine Madonna.
Julius II commissioned this portrait and Madonna of Loreto from Raphael, who resided at Santa Maria del Popolo, at the entrance gate to Rome. Upon the portrait’s completion, it was displayed within the church for eight days, where many people came to see it.
The two artworks, about the same size, appear as if they were meant to complement each other. Aside from their dimensions, they also both had a strong vertical orientation. The eyes of the works of art were unhappy and gave a contemplative feeling. The positioning and lighting within the canvases appear to demonstrate that they have implied an altar in the domed chapel to each flank. Even though the depictions were paired for a time, the “Madonna of Loreto” is presently located in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, through a change of ownership.
The paintings were still recorded as part of the Borghese collection in 1693, as a small inventory number 118 at the bottom left of the London Julius shows. The revelation of this number, hidden by over-paint, in x-ray photographs in 1969 was one of the key pieces of proof establishing the London version’s primacy. It matched a catalog of works of art in the Palazzo Borghese in Rome in 1693.
The portray probably left the collection between 1794 and 1797, and its whereabouts are at that point unknown until it returns in the Angerstein Collection in London by 1823, and so was acquired by the National Gallery in 1824, at first catalogued as a Raphael, but this attribution was soon abandoned for over a century