365 Days of Art: April 17 – Pope Julius Refuses to Meet with Michelangelo Regarding Tomb Commission, Stiffs Him on Money, and Causes Him to Flee Rome in Despair

Moses, from the tomb built for Pope Julius II by Michelangelo, commissioned 1505, completed in 1545.

April 17, 1506

Michelangelo is turned away by Pope Julius II, in his latest attempt to meet and move forward on the commission for Julius’s tomb. Adding insult to injury, the Pope doesn’t cover the freight charges for the marble which Michelangelo has already selected and shipped to Rome. “Overwhelmed with despair”, Michelangelo tells his servants to empty his studio and sell the contents to the Jews. He then flees Rome, saying he will never return.

PS: Of course, he does, or the Sistine Chapel as we know it would never have happened. Julius himself hires Michelangelo to paint the chapel, which Michelangelo accepts because he thinks it will favorably position him to eventually return to the tomb commission. He’s right, and begins work on Julius’s tomb almost immediately after finishing the chapel. The tomb is eventually finished, but not to Michelangelo’s liking because the scope is continuously scaled back after Julius’s death. It remained one of his greatest professional disappointments.

Note: I don’t understand the specific reference to selling his studio contents “to the Jews”. But, given the expulsion of the Jews from Spain just ten years earlier, I’m assuming a similar bigotry exists in Italy at this time. I suspect this reference is intended as a slur, the lowest way for Michelangelo to vent his frustration, disgust and bitter disappointment at the way he’s been dimissed by Pope Julius.

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