Michelangelo Buonarroti, the star of the Renaissance, had a real problem with Pope Julius II.

 

The Rovere Pope held his office in the style of an Italian territorial prince and had Michelangelo summoned from Florence to Rome in 1505 so that he could build Julius’ extraordinary, particularly large and free-standing tomb, which at the time was intended for a central location in St Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo obeyed reluctantly, because in Florence he had to put important projects on hold for it. But, already a young celebrity at the time, he could look forward to a payment of 10,000 ducats, quite a large sum. And since Julius was already over 60 years old at the time, it seemed to make sense to process the order quickly.

First, Michelangelo had to and wanted to supervise the excavation of the marble blocks in the quarries of Carrara. These arrived in his workshop in the spring of 1506.

 

The first plans were drawn up; a whole army of statues was to populate the monument. Michelangelo began work.

 

About 20 months later, however, the extremely costly new construction of St. Peter’s Basilica intervened. Julius turned his back on Michelangelo – no more payments were made from then on. From that moment on, for several years the Pope was only interested in his new prestige object, which was to make Rome the capital of Christianity once and for all. Julius even used indulgences for this purpose. Michelangelo returned to Florence angry and disappointed.

The construction work on Saint Peter’s even shook the nearby Sistine Chapel and cracks in the ceiling forced renovation.

In 1508, Michelangelo was called back to Rome by Julius. After his first departure, the artist had actually sworn never to return. However, he allowed himself to be persuaded, because now the work on the tomb was finally to be pushed ahead. No sooner was he on site, however, than the painting of the ceiling of the renovated Sistine suddenly seemed more important to Julius, and he initially offered Michelangelo this commission.

The work on what was probably the largest work of art of the Renaissance, if only in terms of surface area, was to last until 1512. Michelangelo put all his artistic and philosophical thoughts into this mammoth project.

Julius died in February 1513 – for 8 years, two stubborn people had clashed, measured each other against each other and stubbornly insisted on planning sovereignty. That is now over.

From then on, Michelangelo had to negotiate with the family of the dead man about further work on the tomb. That, too, was to take many more years. In 1545 – in the meantime Michelangelo had even made the Last Judgement in the Sistine – the tomb was finally finished and could be erected in the form we know today in San Pietro in Vincoli. Only the world-famous Moses was undoubtedly executed by the master himself, the remaining figures are obviously workshop works.

 

And – the tomb is a cenotaph. For Julius rests, hard to find, in St. Peter’s Basilica – under the plainest of all marble slabs.

Stories that history writes.

 

(A.W.)