Lagura: Two alpha males: the pope and the painter

·2 min read

JULIUS II is known as “the Warrior Pope” who spent more time riding his war horse than sitting on the Papal Chair. Times were turbulent; many kings and nobles coveted the rich Papal Lands owned by Rome. The Pope fought them.

Yet, he still managed to cultivate fine tastes especially in the arts. He dreamed of having the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted with biblical themes. For this task he commissioned a Florentine rising star, Michelangelo, who established his reputation the artist after carving the statue: “the Young David.”

Michelangelo was highly skilled, but like many an artist, he was temperamental. So, when discussing his work with Pope Julius II, sparks flew, not uncommon among Italians. However, papal authority prevailed, and the great artist had to humble himself often.

While Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel, starting with the ceiling, he did so from the most uncomfortable positions. In a poem he described his artistic ordeal saying:

“Which drives the belly close beneath the chin: My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in, fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly.”

The pope, in turn, defended the artist from Michelangelo’s critics and rivals. A very bitter critic was a cardinal (name withheld out of charity) who habitually appeared in the Chapel to heckle Michelangelo. All the while the artist kept silent.

On the opening day, the public gazed in awe at the splendid work of art. However, upon reaching the bottom of the artistic work -- the painting of hell -- people had to suppress laughter upon seeing Michelangelo’s enemy painted among the damned. Red-faced, the cardinal knelt before the Pope begging him to do something. Suppressing laughter, Julius II smile gently said, “My dear brother, if Michelangelo paints you in Hell, not even I, as pope, can do anything about it.”

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