Tomb of Pope Julius II

The tomb of Julius II, with Michelangelo's statues of Rachel and Leah on the left and the right of his Moses.

The Tomb of Pope Julius II is a sculptural and architectural ensemble by Michelangelo and his assistants, originally commissioned in 1505 but not completed until 1545 on a much reduced scale. Originally intended for St. Peter's Basilica, the tomb was instead placed in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli on the Esquiline in Rome after the pope's death. This church was patronised by the della Rovere family from which Julius came, and he had been titular cardinal there.

As originally conceived, the tomb would have been a colossal structure that would have given Michelangelo the room he needed for his superhuman, tragic beings. This project became one of the great disappointments of Michelangelo's life when the pope, for unexplained reasons, interrupted the commission, possibly because funds had to be diverted for Bramante's rebuilding of St. Peter's.[1] The original project called for a freestanding, three-level structure with some 40 statues. After the pope's death in 1513, the scale of the project was reduced step-by-step until, in April 1532,[2] a final contract specified a simple wall tomb with fewer than one-third of the figures originally planned.[3]

The most famous sculpture associated with the tomb is the figure of Moses, which was completed during one of the sporadic resumptions of the work in 1513. Michelangelo felt that this was his most lifelike creation. Legend has it that upon its completion he struck the right knee commanding, "now speak!" as he felt that life was the only thing left inside the marble. There is a scar on the knee thought to be the mark of Michelangelo's hammer.


  • History 1
  • Sculptures 2
  • Notes 3
  • References 4


  • 1505 – Julius commissions a tomb from Michelangelo, who spends 6 months choosing marble at Carrara.
  • 1506 – Michelanglo returns to Rome due to a lack of funds available for the project, and is dismissed by an angry and bitter Julius. Michelangelo moves to Florence until Julius threatens to wage war on the state unless he returns, which he does.
  • 1508 – It is rumoured that Donato Bramante and Raphael, apparently jealous of Michelangelo's commission, convince the Pope that it is bad luck to have his tomb built during his own lifetime, and that Michelangelo's time would be better spent on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican Palace (assuming that Michelangelo, primarily a sculptor, would have great difficulty in completing a painting of such scale).
  • 1512 – With his decoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling complete, Michelangelo resumed work on the tomb. Between 1512 and 1513 he completed three sculptures for the project: the Dying and Rebellious Slaves (now in the Louvre, Paris) and Moses (retained in the final design).
  • 1513 – Julius died in February 1513. A new contract was drawn up on 6 May which specified a wall tomb. On 9 July Michelangelo contracted a stonemason, Antonio del Ponte a Sieve, to execute the architectural elements of the tomb's lower register, which can be seen in the final design.[4] A large, ruined drawing attributed to Michelangelo survives from this phase of the project, in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin; a more legible facsimile by his pupil Jacomo Rocchetti is also in the same collection. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has a drawing of the tomb from this period.[5] Though no longer for a free-standing monument, the project in fact became more ambitious both in terms of size and the complexity of its iconography.[6]
  • 1516 – A new contract is agreed between Michelangelo and Julius’s heirs who demand the completion of the project.
  • 1520s – Michelangelo carves The Genius of Victory and four unfinished Slaves (now in the Accademia, Florence).
  • 1532 – A second new contract is signed by Michelangelo which involves a wall-tomb.
  • 1542 – The wall-tomb is begun by Michelangelo after final details are negotiated with Julius′s grandson.
  • 1545 – The final tomb is completed and installed in San Pietro in Vincoli; it includes Michelangelo’s Moses along with Leah and Rachel (probably completed by Michelangelo's assistants) on the lower level, and several other sculptures (definitiely not by Michelangelo) on the upper level.
Reconstruction of the original project of 1505 for a freestanding tomb (after Franco Russoli, 1952)[8] 
Reconstruction of the 1513 project, based on a drawing by Jacomo Rocchetti (a pupil of Michelangelo) in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin 
Reconstruction of the 1516 project 
Reconstruction of the 1532 project 


The statues of the Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave were finished but not included in the monument in its last and reduced design.[9] They are now in the Louvre. Another figure intended for Pope Julius' tomb is The Genius of Victory, now in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

Other sculptures for the tomb were the Young Slave, the Atlas Slave, the Bearded Slave and the Awakening Slave. The sculptures of Rachel and Leah, allegories of the contemplative and the active life, were executed by Raffaello da Montelupo, a pupil of Michelangelo. The other sculptures are by less experienced pupils.


  1. ^ Kleiner, Fred S., Christin J. Mamiya, and Helen Gardner. Gardner's Art Through the Ages. 12th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2004.
  2. ^ Sweetser 1878, p. 92
  3. ^ Sweetser 1878, p. 107
  4. ^ Panofsky 1937, p. 566
  5. ^ "Michelangelo Buonarroti: Project for a Wall Tomb for Pope Julius II (62.93.1)". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. (October 2006)
  6. ^ Panofsky 1937, p. 577
  7. ^ Erwin Panofsky (1937) The First Two Projects of Michelangelo's Tomb of Julius II The Art Bulletin 19(4):561–579
  8. ^ Erwin Panofsky (1937) The First Two Projects of Michelangelo's Tomb of Julius II The Art Bulletin 19(4):561–579
  9. ^ See Charles Robertson's article in The Slave in European Art,ed Elizabeth McGrath and Jean Michel Massing, London, The Warburg Institute, 2012
  10. ^ Hibbard, Howard. Michelangelo. p. 203. 


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