Name at birth: Giuliano della Rovere
Pope Julius II is remembered more for his patronage of the arts -- including commissioning Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel -- than for his theological impact on the Catholic church. A member of the Franciscan order, his career was significantly boosted when his uncle was elected as Pope Sixtus IV (1471). Under Sixtus, Giuliano led an army into Umbria and fought to extend the reach of the papacy, making no secret of his ambitions to become pope. Giuliano finally succeeded to the papal throne as Julius II on 28 November 1503 (not without resorting to bribery, it is said). As pope, Julius continued to extend papal authority and the temporal power of the church, with particular designs on Venice and France. He became a great patron of the arts, including commissioning Raphael, Donato Bramante (who began the rebuilding of St. Peter's) and Michelangelo, who he hired (or bullied, some say) to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1508. Notoriously self-indulgent and cantankerous -- he reportedly used a cane to whack insubordinates -- Julius II led a flurry of rebuilding and artistic achievement in Rome not seen since ancient times. He was succeeded by Pope Leo X.
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