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When will you make an end?
When I am finished!
~ Julius II and Michelangelo, on his work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Pope Julius II (born Giuliano della Rovere) was a character from the Irving Stone novel The Agony and the Ecstasy and the movie based upon the novel.

By the early 1500s Julius was the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Somewhat hot tempered, Julius was more skilled as a solider than a priest. As such he set out on campaigns across the mid section of Italy to retrieve lands for the Papal States.

At some point Julius had requested Michelangelo carve a tomb for him, and Michelangelo accepted the commission. He spent the next few years carving statues for the tomb, and as blocks of marble were delivered to Rome he was able to see the finished product living in the stone and maintained that he just had to carve it free.

For his part Michelangelo disapproved of the Pope's use of the sword to conquer Italy, calling him a freebooter and conqueror. Julius defended his actions, saying he was not the Borgia (Pope Alexander VI), and that he would use both the sword and art to build up the church, not engage in power plays.

Julius felt an attachment to the Sistine Chapel, as it had been built a few decades earlier by his Uncle Pope Sixtus IV. Later in 1508 Julius decided he didn't like the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, and wanted it decorated suitably. He ordered Michelangelo to stop working on his tomb and instead start painting the ceiling of the chapel. Michelangelo protested that painting was not his trade, but Julius insisted. When Michelangelo was dissatisfied with his first attempt at painting the ceiling he destroyed his work and ran off. Furious over what had happened Julius demanded his soldiers bring Michelangelo back to Rome. When Barmante suggested hiring the artist Raphael to paint the ceiling, Julius rebuked him, saying that either Michelangelo would paint the ceiling or would hang.

While hiding in northern Italy near Carrara, Michelangelo was inspired by the sun rising over the mountains. Putting together a plan he gathered his courage and went to see Julius. He talked Julius into letting him paint the ceiling according to his plans.

Over the next several years Michelangelo continued work on the painting. The Pope would frequently ask Michelangelo when he would make an end of the work, to which Michelangelo replied when he was finished. During the painting Michelangelo became very ill, but due to the Pope's insistence gathered his strength and continued working.

One day Julius learned some distressing news, that a large number of hostile forces were arrayed against him. While in a meeting with his Cardinals and Generals Michelangelo came in, angrily demanding to know why the scaffolding was being dismantled. The two men quarrelled, with Julius striking Michelangelo and dismissing him from his service.

Soon Julius left to face his enemies in battle. The battle did not go well for the Papal forces. Overwhelmed they were forced to retreat back towards Rome, with Julius seriously wounded. While resting in a small village Michelangelo came and asked Julius for permission to resume his work. Even though he thought it pointless Julius gave him permission. Julius funded the continued work by selling a seat in the College of Cardinals to a young priest.

The battered Papal forces returned to Rome. Back home, late one evening Julius decided to take a closer look at Michelangelo's work while he still could, and the creation of Adam caught his eye. When Michelangelo's approached, he asked the younger man how he had arrived at that image. Michelangelo said he meant Adam to be as he was in the very beginning, before he sinned. The Pope felt the image didn't show God as angry enough, but Michelangelo countered that he didn't think God was an angry being, more like a father figure. He told Michelangelo though that he wished he could've been an artist, that he would have had God's ear as Michelangelo did. He told Michelangelo that the painting would probably be destroyed once Rome was conquered for his enemies, and turned to leave. Julius did not make it very far before collapsing due to complications from his injuries.

While Julius laid in his bed in critical condition news came in that many of the European powers - even the young English King Henry - were coming to the Pope's aid. However the Pope's advisers did not believe the alliance would hold if Julius died. Hearing that Michelangelo decided to try angering the Pope in the hopes that it would make him feel better. Going in to his bedroom, Michelangelo told the Pope that he was stopping work on the ceiling and returning to Florence. Angry over the news the Pope insisted that he complete his work. Rising out of his bed Julius gave Michelangelo a choice, either finish the work or get sent to a dungeon. Michelangelo quickly agreed to continue his work. Meanwhile Julius found a whole bunch of officials gathered around his bed. Berating them for hanging about him like a pack of vultures, he ordered them out of his room.

Seeing Julius in an apparently healthy state his new allies helped beat his enemies back. Michelangelo soon completed his work on the ceiling, and Julius blessed the completed ceiling at Mass while the assembled people marvelled over the completed work.

At the conclusion of the Mass Julius pulled Michelangelo aside. He told Michelangelo that something needed to be done about the ruined wall above the altar, such as a Last Judgement or another suitable subject. Michelangelo objected that the Pope had promised him he could now restart his work on the tomb. Knowing that he did not have much more time left on Earth Julius decided not to hold Michelangelo to that, and to begin work on the tomb as it would soon be needed.

Julius told Michelangelo that very soon he would meet God and would learn first hand if the conception Michelangelo held of God was correct. When Michelangelo tried to tell him he had recovered before, Julius stated that it was because he had not completed his work, but that it was now complete and he was ready. Julius admitted he almost let Michelangelo stop work twice on the ceiling, and asked Michelangelo if he was glad that he did not do so, to which Michelangelo responded that he was.

Julius told Michelangelo the completed ceiling represented something much greater than either of them. Saying "To work, my son" he left Michelangelo alone in the chapel.

Trivia

  • The real Michelangelo would go on to paint the wall behind the altar in the 1530s, some 25 years after completing the ceiling.
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