Genius entrammelled

1505 – Julius commissions a tomb from Michelangelo, who spends six months choosing marble at Carrara.

1506 – Michelanglo returns to Rome due to a lack of funds available for the project, and is dismissed by an angry and bitter Julius. Michelangelo moves to Florence until Julius threatens to wage war on the state unless he returns, which he does.

1508 – It is rumoured that Donato Bramante and Raphael, apparently jealous of Michelangelo’s commission, convince the Pope that it is bad luck to have his tomb built during his own lifetime, and that the time of Michelangelo would be better spent on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican Palace – assuming that Michelangelo, primarily a sculptor, would have great difficulty in completing a painting of such scale.

1512 – With his decoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling complete, Michelangelo resumed work on the tomb. Between 1512 and 1513 he completed three sculptures for the project: the Dying, and Rebellious Slaves – now in the Louvre, Paris – and Moses – retained in the final design.

1513 – Julius died in February 1513. A new contract was drawn up on 6 May which specified a wall tomb. On 9 July, Michelangelo contracted a stonemason, Antonio del Ponte a Sieve, to execute the architectural elements of the tomb’s lower register, which can be seen in the final design. A large, ruined drawing attributed to Michelangelo survives from this phase of the project, in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin; a more legible facsimile by his pupil Jacomo Rocchetti is also in the same collection. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has a drawing of the tomb from this period as well. Though no longer for a free-standing monument, the project in fact became more ambitious both in terms of size and the complexity of its iconography.

1516 – A new contract is agreed between Michelangelo and the heirs of Julius who demand the completion of the project.

1520s – Michelangelo carves The Genius of Victory and four unfinished Slaves – now in the Accademia, Florence.

1532 – A second new contract is signed by Michelangelo which involves a wall-tomb.

1542 – The wall-tomb is begun by Michelangelo after final details are negotiated with the grandson of Julius.

1545 – The final tomb is completed and installed in San Pietro in Vincoli. It includes Michelangelo’s Moses along with Leah and Rachel – probably completed by Michelangelo’s assistants – on the lower level, and several other sculptures – definitely not by Michelangelo – on the upper level.