Chapter 29 - JULIUS II AND LEO X (AD 1503-1521)

Alexander VI was succeeded by a pope who took the title of Pius III, and who lived only six and twenty days after his election. And after Pius came Julius II, who was pope from 1503 to 1513, and Leo X, who lived to the year 1521.

Julius, who owed his rise in life to the favour of his uncle Sixtus IV (one of the popes who had come between Pius II and Alexander VI), was desirous to gain for the Roman see all that it had lost or had ever claimed. He was not a man of religious character, but plunged deeply into politics, and even acted as a soldier in war. Thus, at the siege of Mirandola, in the winter of 1511, he lived for weeks in a little hut, regardless of the frost and snow, of the roughness and scantiness of his food; and when most of those around him were frightened away by the cannon-balls which came from the walls of the fortress, the stout old pope kept his place, and directed the pointing of his own cannon against the town.

His successor, Leo, who was of the Florentine family of Medici (p 272), was fond of elegant pleasures and of hunting. His tastes were costly, and continually brought him into difficulties as to money. The manner of life in Leo's court was gay, luxurious, and far from strict. He had comedies acted before him, which were hardly fit for the amusement of the chief bishop of Christendom. He is famous for his encouragement of the arts; and it was in his time that the art of painting reached its highest perfection through the genius of Michael Angelo Buonarotti (who has been already mentioned as a disciple of Savonarola--p 274), and of Raphael Sanzio. In the art of architecture a great change took place about this time. For some hundreds of years it had been usual to build in what is called the Gothic style, of which the chief mark is the use of pointed arches. Not that there was no change during all that time; for there are great differences between the earlier and the later kinds of Gothic, and these have since been so carefully studied that skillful people can tell from the look of a building the time at which every part of it was erected. But a little before the year 1500, the Gothic gave way to another style, and one of the greatest works ever done in this new style was the vast church of St. Peter, at Rome. I have mentioned that Nicolas V thought of rebuilding the ancient church, which had stood since the time of Constantine the Great, and that he had even begun the work (p 269). But now both the old basilica (p 85) and the beginning of a new church which Nicolas had made were swept away, and something far grander was designed. There were several architects who carried on the building of this great church, one after another; but the grand dome of St. Peter's, which rises into the air over the whole city, was the work of Michael Angelo, who was not only a painter, but an architect and a sculptor. It was by offering indulgences (or spiritual favours, forgiveness of sins, and the like) as a reward for gifts towards the new St. Peter's, that Julius raised the anger and disgust of the German reformer, Martin Luther. And thus it was the building of the most magnificent of Roman churches that led to the revolt which took away from the popes a great part of their spiritual dominion.