Julius II belonged to the della Rovere family. He was a forceful ruler, who reasserted his power over the Papal States by military action. He patronised the arts and ordered the rebuilding of St Peter's in Rome.
The painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari (1511 - 1574) wrote of Raphael's early years in Rome: 'And at this time... 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.' The painting seems to have been displayed in the Roman Church of Santa Maria del Popolo which had been redecorated at the expense of the della Rovere family. The format was to be exceedingly influential on subsequent papal portraiture.
The painting was purchased from the Angerstein collection.