Portrait of Julius II - a Raphael case study

December 14, 2011

The reason that hidden things ought not to be communicated to everyone is that when these things are revealed, they seem to everyone to be discordant
Nicolaus Cusanus
De Sapienta

On December 6 2011, the Städel Museum in Frankfurt announced its possession of a workshop copy of Raphael's Portrait of Pope Julius II. A picture with a convoluted provenance and attribution history, it made the perfect candidate for a case study in the manner of my ongoing Raphael project. As testimony to the responsiveness of online publishing, a synthesis of the great number of sources for this painting now integrates the Städel panel as a point of comparison. The following information presents the National Gallery version as the prime candidate for Raphael's authorship of visible surface elements, a position  held by Raphael scholars since the later part of the twentieth century, with one notable exception.

As usual, I feel it is necessary to point out that I do not offer an opinion on which variant is more or less authentic. If anything can be stated for certain, this portrait is another example of a the variable interpretations present in Raphael scholarship. The following report is a systematic collation of these sources, in the interests of clarification and public accessibility.

Portrait of Pope Julius II
Dated c.1511-12
National Gallery London inv. NG27
Oil on poplar panel
108.7 x 81cm

Attribution status
NGL listing as an autograph work by Raphael
Contested by James Beck (1996)

Attribution history,  the Uffizi,  Pitti  and Städel variants
Prior to 1970, The Uffizi version was widely regarded as the original. Earlier authors favoured the Pitti version, now popularly attributed to Titian. In December 2011, the Städel Museum in Frankfurt announced its possession of what is stated to be an early workshop predecessor - with X-Ray scans demonstrating pentimenti to the face, and remodelling of the right hand in an elevated gesture of blessing. The relationship of this particular feature of the Städel version to the depiction of Julius as Gregory IX in a Vatican fresco is yet to be elaborated by scholars.

It must be noted, of the key variants now linked to Raphael and his workshop, neither can be traced back to the earliest report of this painting in 1513. The 1633 Borghese inventory link is the first confirmed mention of the London version, 1631 for the Uffizi (and Pitti) version, and 1905 for the Städel panel.

Early Reports
1513-1591 Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome
Described in several documents as being in the Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. The earliest of these was a journal entry by Venetian diarist Marino Sanuto in September 1513. Also described by Vasari at this location in both editions of his Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects (1550, 1568):

And at this time, when he had gained a very great name, he also made a portrait of Pope Julius in a picture in oils, so true and so lifelike, that the portrait caused all who saw it to tremble, as if it had been the living man himself. This work is now in Santa Maria del Popolo, together with a very beautiful picture of Our Lady, painted at the same time by the same master, and containing the Nativity of Jesus Christ, wherein is the Virgin laying a veil over her Son, whose beauty is such, both in the air of the head and in all the members, as to show that He is the true Son of God.

1591 Cardinal Sfrondati, Rome
Painting was 'taken' in exchange for 100 scudi in by Cardinal Sfrondati, nephew of the current Pope Gregory XIV. It was noted he took this and the accompanying Nativity of Christ by Raphael at the Santa Maria del Popolo causing "the universal displeasure of the whole of Rome" - as described in a footnote in the 1807-11 editions of Vasari.

Cardinal Sfrondati attempted to sell the Julius portrait at least twice - records exist showing negotiations of a sale to Emperor Rudolf II in 1595 and another negotiation with Francesco Maria II della Rovere between 1600-1606. Neither correspondence resulted in a sale.

NGL London
1608 Borghese Collection, Rome
Believed to be part of a 71 piece acquisition by the Cardinal Scipione Borghese for the Villa Borghese, though no list of individual works is identified in the surviving documentation of this transaction.  The portrait was listed in 1633 inventory made at the Cardinal's death for the Palazzo Borghese. The inventory number 118 was placed on bottom left corner of the panel during this process.

1794-7 Sold?
Several mentions of the portrait within the Palazzo Borghese collection appear in diary and traveler itinerary descriptions. One of these, the Itineraire instructif de Rome by Vasi mentions the painting in 1794, but omits in 1797, indicating the painting left the collection during this time. This was not unusual given the Napoleonic incursion into Italy between 1796-1797, where many old master pieces were sold to avoid their theft by the French.

1823 Angerstein Collection, London
Appears in the catalogue of collector John Julius Angerstein, which was written by John Young after Angerstein's death. The Borghese source is not stated here, instead the Falconieri  Palace is mentioned. That the Falconieri Palace was a temporary home for the portrait between its period at the Palazzo Borghese and the Angerstein Collection is not considered by scholars due to a lack of supportive documentation. Earlier provenances also include mention of Falconieri and Lancellotti's palaces but these sources are presently unverifiable.

1824 National Gallery London
Angerstein collection purchased by the National Gallery London (NGL). This piece was listed and bought as a Raphael at the time. Following the publication of Passavant's volume on Raphael in 1860, the status of original was assigned to the Pitti version, with the NGL version inheriting the status of a copy. In the 20th century, the status of original passed to the Uffizi version. It was not until X-Ray examination in 1969 and cleaning in 1970, and the revelation of the Borghese catalogue number and background compositional changes that the status of original was restored to this NGL piece. 

Uffizi, Pitti and Städel variants
Uffizi, Florence  inv. 1450
Its presence in the Ducal Collection in 1631 places it in Urbino, though its duration in this collection is presently not known. No documentation of this piece exists before the 1631 inventory. Noted as part of the inheritance of Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere. This document, the Nota dei quadri  buoni (record of fine pictures) inventoried the artworks of  Duchy of Urbino in advance of Vittoria's marriage to Ferdinando II de' Medici, finalised in 1634. Works within the Urbino collection of the della Rovere were hence absorbed into the Medici collection at this point. Present institutional attribution cites this as from the workshop of Raphael.

Palatine Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Florence  inv. 79
Also absorbed into the Medici collection after the marriage of Grand Duchess Vittoria. This piece is institutionally attributed to Titian, though Passavant, an early Raphael catalogue author forwarded it as the original.

Städel Museum, Frankfurt
Provenance can be traced only to 1905 (this owner presently not identified)

1909/1910 Purchased by American restorer Arthur Dawson. A 1912 New York Times article quotes Dawson, stating he believes his version is the original

1914 Sold by Dawson to another American collector (presently not identified), who took the piece to Florence to compare it to the versions there. Donated to a Viennese banker in 1914.

1914-2010 Remained within the family of the Viennese banker. Put on auction as copy after Raphael in 2007, failing to sell.

2010 Purchased privately by Städel Museum for an undisclosed amount.

Stylistic Analysis
This is the only known standalone portrait completed by Raphael of the Pope, showing Julius at a later stage in life. Raphael had similarly depicted Julius in a scene in the Stanza della Segnatura  frescoes, in the guise of Pope Gregory IX Approving the Decretals, completed August 1511. This version is particularly noteworthy given the new discovery of a suggestion of raised right hand via X-Ray analysis of the Städel version.

The 1511-12 date refers to Julius being known to have grown a beard as a response to the fall of Bologna to French forces in 1510, not vowing to remove it until the French had been expelled from Italy. The acorns on the papal chair are a further reference to the della Rovere family. The nature of gems and the fingers to which the rings belong, and the holding of a handkerchief are consistent with motif illustrating piety, also seen in Raphael's earlier portrait known as La Muta.

Poplar panel noted by Plesters, verified via microscopic analysis. Characteristic irregular growth pattern was noted, commonly seen in poplar specimens. No dating evidence is presently available on the NGL panel or the copies in Florence. As poplar can not be confidently dated via dendrochronological or 'tree ring'  analysis(due to the irregular growth) Carbon-14 dating may yield more accurate results. 

Preliminary Sketch
A sketch of the head of Julius II is held in the Chatsworth Collection. A full size cartoon now held at the Corsini Gallery in Florence is not believed to be by Raphael, or to have been involved in the preparation of the NGL work, but instead made as a copy. The status of both the Chatsworth sketch, and the Corsini drawing is also contested by Beck (and others). Beyond stylistic judgement made of the drawings, there has been no other dating or documentary evidence submitted to support either drawing as authentic. 

Click thumbnails for larger view

Pigments and Underdrawing
In 1969 X-Ray analysis performed at NGL indicated changes that had been painted over. The original design suggested a backdrop displaying motif of the Papal Keys, Papal Tiara and the Oak Tree, a symbol of the della Rovere family to which Julius II belonged (as Giuliano della Rovere).

Pigment analysis indicated the original colours of this backdrop were primarily blue and yellow, and this was painted over by the artist at the time of the painting's creation - verified by analysis of the layers of pigment - indicating no significant passage of time or accumulation of dust or debris between these layers. This pentimenti (change of mind) of the original artist led to re-assign this portrait its status as by Raphael.

IR Reflectography demonstrated no underdrawing but it is noted that if an underdrawing was present in black or red/brown at gesso (ground layer) level, it would not be visible in the IR scan

Gas chromatography testing of samples taken from green backdrop and the white papal surplice demonstrated walnut oil as binding medium, consistent with Italian painting pre 1520, after which linseed oil was favoured.

Contested points
In a 1996 article in Artibus et Historiae, James Beck points out the difficulty in linking the NGL piece to the provenance sequence before the 1633 Borghese catalogue which provided the 118 inscription. Hence, the piece described by Vasari in the Santa Maria del Popolo and later taken by Sfrondati can not be verified as any of the surviving versions of this piece. 

Beck also points out that no extant descriptions or drawings exist which show the pentimenti motifs - arguing this is not conclusive of Raphael's authorship. It must be noted, the extent and number of studio copies, and the degree of Raphael's involvement in this process for this portrait is presently not revealed by documentary evidence.

Prior to 1970, the status of original was assigned to the Uffizi version. Comparison of the NGL piece to the Uffizi version shows variation in rendering of face and hands. Beck states that the more graceful rendering of these features in the Uffizi version take it closer to the original than the NGL piece. Also in Florence, the Pitti version, whilst popularly attributed to Titian, is not conclusively corroborated by evidence of his authorship. It is presently believed to be a c.1560 copy of Venetian origin.

Click thumbnails for larger view

Stadel version - an early workshop copy?
In December 2011 the Städel Museum in Frankfurt publicly announced its acquisition of another variant of the Julius II portrait. Bought as a copy after Raphael, its provenance is reported to date to a private collection from 1905. Its ownership history before this is presently not available. Technical examination, including undersurface scanning demonstrated significant pentimenti - which has led the Städel staff to elevate the status of the piece to being a workshop copy with possible alterations made by Raphael at an undersurface level. Commenting on the attribution, Raphael catalogue author Jürg Meyer zur Capellen supported the workshop attribution.

A key piece of evidence forwarded by Professor Jochen Sander of the Städel was the discovery of changes to Julius II's face, with the right hand also being raised in a gesture of blessing. Revealed via X-Ray analysis, this significant compositional change has lead to the suggestion that the Städel Julius II may have been a compositional predecessor to the other known versions, which do not show the raised right hand. Sander adds the notion of single copies as originals is "19th century thinking." He clarified that Julius II is known to have donated two version of this portrait to churches, though the identity of these churches, and the source of this information is not clarified. Further study of the Städel piece, in collaboration with London and Florentine institutions is expected to provide more detail.

Faced with a myriad of variables, the process of  determining attributions practised by experts in the field is not a simple, let alone precise activity. Of the four versions discussed in this piece, 3 have been acknowledged as the original at a given point in time, with the newest addition being particularly unique for its characteristic changes. The need for a systematic approach and rational, transparent mode of reporting is apparent in such examples. A clear assay of the evidence at hand will bring us closer to understanding how Renaissance workshops operated, as well as inform our perception of authorship in these settings.

Apovnik, D. Stadel erwarb Portrait Papst Julius von Raffael und werkstatt. Stadel Musuem Blog. 6 December 2011. Accessed December 13 2011 link

Beck, J. The Portrait of Julius II in London's National Gallery. The Goose that turned Into a Gander. Artibus et Historiae. Vol. 17. No.33. 1996. pp.69-95 link

Dunkerton, J., Roy, A. The altered background of Raphael’s portrait of Pope Julius II in the National Gallery, London. The Burlington Magazine. Issue 146. 2004. pp. 757-759 link

Gould, C. The Raphael Portrait of Julius II; Problems of Versions and Variants; and a Goose That Turned into a Swan. Apollo. London. 1970. pp.185-189

Harris, B., Zucker, S. Smarthistory.org. Video presentation of iconographic elements of the Portrait of Julius II link 

Hickley, C. Raphael 'Pope Julius II' Sold to Staedel may be original. Bloomberg website Dec 7 2011. Accessed December 13 2011. link

Hopkins, J. Nicholas of Cusa on Wisdom and Knowledge. AJ Banning Press. 1996  p.500

Inventario 1890. Polo Museale Fiorentino website. Entry for Uffizi Julius II link image

Inventario Palatina 1912. Polo Museale Fiorentino website. Entry for Pitti Julius II link image

Meyer-Setton, K. The Papacy and the Levant 1204-1571. American Philosophical Society. 1983. Vol 3. p. 93

Meyer zur Capellen, J. Raphael - The Paintings. Arcos Verlag. 2008. Vol. 3. pp.100-108

Oberhuber, K. Raphael and the State Portrait-I: The Portrait of Julius II. The Burlington Magazine. Vol. 113, No. 816 (March 1971). pp. 124-131

NGL Raphael Resource Retrieved June 13 2011 link

Passavant, J.D. Raphael d'Urbin et son pere Giovanni Santi. Vol. 2. 1860. Paris. p.95

Plesters, J. Technical Aspects of Some Paintings by Raphael in The National Gallery London. Princeton Raphael Symposium. Hall, M.B., Shearman, J.(eds.) Princeton University Press. 1990. pp. 28-31

Shearman, J. Raphael in Early Modern Sources 1483-1602. Yale University Press. New Haven and London 2003.

Studying Raphael: X-Ray examination. Feature article listed on National Gallery London Website. Retrieved June 13 2011.  link

Vasari, G. Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects. Transl. by G. Du C. De Vere, London 1912-4. 1976, Vol.4/10. pp. 174-5;  pp. 222-3 (translation)

Vasari, G. Vite de’ piu’ eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti. Milan 1807-11. Vol. 3/16  p.57

Vasi, M. Itinerario istruttivo di Roma. Rome 1794. Shearman op.cit

Vasi, M. Itinéraire instructif de Rome. 1997. Shearman op.cit


Anonymous said...

Great coverage and comparisons on this issue H! Further study, of course, is necessary for any definite conclusion. Your sources and information on this topic would take weeks to research for someone without your expertise. Thank you for covering this latest 'discovery' and putting the sensationalism into perspective.

Mary Jo

Unknown said...

Cheers Mary Jo! I'm still dazzled by that Cusanus quote - it seems so appropriate for any branch of knowledge that relies on the public being somewhat obscured from a fuller set of details.

It's a type of scholarly gnosticism I'm not fond of - especially when public funds are being utilised by galleries to purchase old masters, for example. I'm working hard to fight against this for Raphael at least!

Kind Regards

Edward Goldberg said...

There is the core of something very profound in Professor Sander’s observation about the notion of single copies as originals representing anachronistic thinking, especially when we focus on works of art as objects that had practical uses in specific contexts in the past. Also, we tend to assume that the “best” version of a picture was necessarily lodged in the most prestigious place (like Santa Maria del Popolo). I am somewhat puzzled by the concept of “an early workshop predecessor” with significant pentimenti. Predecessor of what exactly? And how do we get from point A to B in concrete terms? In any case, you have rendered a valuable service to all of us in encapsulating the available information in such concise and cogent form. As you say, there are several intriguing problems here, with compelling methodological implications.

Alberti's Window said...

Great post! It's interesting that 3 of the portraits have been hailed as an original at a given time. I really appreciate Edward's insights on this topic as well.

Regardless of which painting is autograph, I think it's interesting how this composition influenced future artists. Titian's "Pope Paul III" and Velasquez's "Pope Innocent X" seem to be influenced by Raphael's composition. I don't believe we know which specific copies (or later paintings influenced by a certain copy) ended up inspiring Titian and Velasquez. It would be interesting to see if that "artistic provenance" could help shed light on the history/attributions behind these works attributed to Raphael.

Unknown said...

Cheers for the comments!

@Ed - To use your analogy - point A - is the supposedly earlier fresco version. Quite possibly, someone was impressed with it enough to think it merited to be adapted to panel. The drawing on the Frankfurt panel version originally seemed to mimic the raised right arm pose of the fresco, which does not seem to be present in the NGL version - though uncofirmed in the Uffizi variant. Hence, based on the emphasis Sander et al are making on this point, it seems they they believe the NGL version, represents point B in the evolution of the composition.

It will be interesting to see what further investigations will reveal.

@M - that's right - *this* papal portrait is seen as the progenitor of the style that followed, most notably emulated by Titian and Velazquez. Interesting, the current Pope Benedict XVI had a portrait painted by German artist Michael Triegel last year that also takes much inspiration from Raphael's Julius II. The Pontiff apparently called the young artist "my Raphael" - a nice video of the artist dicussing the work can be seen here: link

Kind Regards

jeremykeller said...

A coincidence, or what? Did Syvester Stallone really have his Doppelganger living back in 1511? In any case, I think it may have taken a very observant person to nice this, as he is not even the main subject of the fresco.
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