Leonardo was deeply interested in finding order in nature, and his studies of plants, birds, and the
movement of water all are directed to that end. So are his many anatomical drawings, as well as his famous
proportion study, the Vitruvian Man. In this work, the ideal man is shown to fit into a perfect circle and a
perfect square. Leonardo’s drawing is based on the work of the Roman writer Vitruvius, and his ingenious
way of giving form to Vitruvius’ rather dry description has made the Vitruvian Man one of the most
memorable images in the history of art.
See a good image of the Vitruvian Man (and explore Leonardo’s other works) at
universalleonardo.org
THE HIGH RENAISSANCE
IN
ROME: JULIUS II
AS
COLLECTOR
AND
PATRON
At the beginning of the Renaissance, the city of Rome was a mere shadow of its former self. The great
buildings of ancient Rome had fallen into disrepair for many reasons: waves of marauding tribes, the church
using ancient Roman buildings as a quarries for new churches, and a simple lack of interest and resources
to maintain them. The population of the city of Rome was probably over a million during the time of
Augustus; by the fourteenth century there were only around 25,000 in the city. The pope and his court
resided in France for most of the fourteenth century, and as a result the economy collapsed.
By the mid-fifteenth century there was growing interest in reviving the ancient grandeur of Rome. The
popes had taken up residency in the city once again, and some of them envisioned a new Christian Rome
Empire as glorious as the ancient Roman Empire. Much building activity centered around Old St. Peter’s
and the Vatican, the palace adjacent to St. Peter’s, which became the main residence of the popes from
around 1450. The palace is huge with many significant works of art within, but we will be concentrating on
the works associated with Pope Julius II: a suite of rooms decorated by Raphael and his shop and the Sistine
Chapel, which has wall frescoes by great
15th
century painters like Botticelli and Perugino, as well as the
famous ceiling frescoes by Michelangelo. Although these spaces would not have been open to the public as
they are today, Pope Julius II did allow access to his sculpture collection in the Belvedere, which was
originally a separate building at the top of the Vatican hill (it was connected to the palace in the sixteenth
century by long corridors designed by Raphael). Julius II acquired some of the best-known classical works
found in the Renaissance like the Laocöon and the Torso Belvedere. These are Hellenistic sculptures from
the 3rd-1st century BCE, and they display powerful, muscular figures and strong twisting motion. These
sculptures were especially admired by Michelangelo—you will see reflections of these sculptures in the
Sistine Chapel frescoes.
Julius II’s interest in classical art is an aspect of his ambition to create a new Christian empire, as glorious as
the ancient Roman Empire. Pope Julius II was a very militant pope, who led troops trying to conquer new
territory for the Papal States. He was enormously ambitious, wanting to bring glory to the Church and
himself. He employed the best architects and artists in Italy, and in 1505 he called Michelangelo to Rome
to work on his own tomb. If it had been built as first planned the Tomb of Julius II would have been about
as tall as a three story building, and would have contained 40 over-life sized sculpture (two of these
sculptures, the Rebellious Slave and the Dying Slave, are in the Louvre). It was originally planned to be
placed in a new apse being built on St. Peter’s basilica, a 4th century Early Christian church. Legend has it
that Julius II soon felt the new apse would not be adequate, and commissioned Bramante to design an
entirely new St. Peter’s. Bramante’s plan would be revised by Michelangelo in the 1540s, and revised again
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