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December 16, 2020

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Raphael Julius.jpg

Portrait of Pope Julius II
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino

[Yes, we know, I used this last year. But it is a marvelous portrait and Kris's opining is more interesting than my grunting.]

Pope Julius II is called the “Warrior Pope.” Born Giuliano della Rovere, he was a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV who made him a cardinal. He was also the great rival of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who, as Pope Alexander VI, tried to have him killed. Della Rovere would seek protection from the French and aid them in their wars against the Borgia-controlled Papal States. As cardinal, he seems to have ignored his spiritual duties, looking only to enrich and empower himself, and as pope, Julius II turned on his former French allies to expand and strengthen the Papacy’s terrestrial power, authority, and wealth. He was also one of the greatest patrons of the arts during the High Renaissance, commissioning some of the most famous artworks from Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bramante.

Raphael was commissioned by Julius to decorate the papal apartments in the Vatican, the most famous being the frescos of the Stanza della Segnatura which includes the masterpiece The School of Athens. Later, the Pope again hired Raphael to create this portrait.

Unlike other portraits of the era that show powerful people in poses of strength or authority, this shows a tired old man near the end of his life. It is an almost full-length, three-quarters view. Julius looks sad and lost in thought. He mindlessly holds a handkerchief in his right hand while his left grasps the arm of his throne. The finials of the throne are made to look like acorns, a heraldic symbol of the della Rovere.

He wears the robes of his office. The deep red of the stole and cap is repeated in his ruddy complexion. The pure white of his beard and the hat trim provide a contrasting frame for this expressive face and break up the reds. The white beard is also in the near-visual center of the work, just above true center. It hangs over the large red area of his stole, creating almost a bullseye effect and draws my eye up to the face. To offset the red and white, Raphael paints the background a rich shade of green, red’s complement. The red and the green are of similar values and shades causing them to balance each other rather than clash. Then to make sure they don’t, Raphael mixes in black shading and texturing to reduce their relative intensities. The focus is on that sad, expressive face and should not be distracted by radiant color.

The finials of the throne are made to look like acorns, a heraldic symbol in Julius’ family. Into the green background, Raphael paints simple outlines of the Keys of St. Peter that visually enliven the background and counter the acorns. Together they say that this is a della Rovere Pope, make no mistake.

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posted by Open Blogger at 09:30 AM

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