Tomb of Pope Julius II by Michelangelo

In an artistic career plagued by disaster, disappointment, and incompletion, the story of the tomb of Pope Julius II is the most tragic and telling of Michelangelo's life. After accepting the original commission in 1505, which originally was to include forty over-life-size statues, Michelangelo spent more than a year designing the monument and selecting and transporting marble from Carrara, only for the project to be abandoned due to lack of funds.

Michelangelo's Tomb of Pope Julius II
The marble tomb of Pope Julius II can be seen at
San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome.

Working intermittently on the tomb of Pope Julius II over the years, Michelangelo's creative genius was not wasted; elements from his early plans for the tomb found their way into his massive frescoes on the Sistine ceiling. In turn, his brilliant work on the ceiling would serve as inspiration for the daring sculptural style that would come to life in the finally realized version of the tomb of Pope Julius II. The plans for the monument marked the first time Michelangelo combined architecture and sculpted figures, and finally, in 1545, the designs for the tomb, some of which still exist, were realized on a much smaller scale.

The majesty and forceful dignity that Michelangelo bestowed upon even the most humble piece of marble is evident in Moses, the central feature of the tomb of Pope Julius II. The massive sculpture, which is twice life-size, is clearly intended to represent the mighty wrath and aggressive personality of Julius II, traits that were matched by the artist's powerful sculptural style.

For more on Moses, completed around 1515, see the next section in this article.

To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see: