Skip to main content

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Michelangelo & Sebastiano

Short films inspired by the exhibition
Rome & Rivalry

Rome & Rivalry

After meeting in 1511 in Rome – a city plagued by poverty and crime yet also the wealthy and powerful centre of the Catholic Church – Michelangelo and Sebastiano del Piombo join forces in a bid to marginalise their artistic rival Raphael from lucrative commissions.

Find out more about the exhibition 

Rome, at the beginning of the 16th century, was not the world city that we know it as today. It was a medieval city. It had not undergone the modern renovations seen in other parts of Italy, such as Florence or Venice. It was plagued by poverty and crime, and was a pretty dangerous place at this time. It was, of course, the centre of the Church, and therefore, a centre of power and considerable wealth. Pope Julius II, elected in 1503, was hugely ambitious, both politically and in terms of renovating the Vatican and the city. A lot of building structures were ruinous, so money poured into Rome. There was a lot of need for new building, new decorations, plenty of work for artists, and the best artists in Italy were pouring into Rome, hoping to get jobs. Amongst the many artists that worked for Julius, the most significant are Donato Bramante, the architect, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Michelangelo was supremely good at one thing, nobody could touch him at the subject of the male nude. Raphael, on the other hand, could do a lot of things. He could do landscapes, he could do pretty girls, he could do portraits, he could do very many things that Michelangelo chose not to do. So Raphael was painting the Stanza della Segnatura while Michelangelo was working on the Sistine ceiling. And this, I think, sparked the rivalry between them. It certainly made Michelangelo feel paranoid about Raphael's increasing fame and influence in Rome. Into this increasingly volatile situation comes Sebastiano, who arrived from Venice in 1511. Sebastiano was a highly sophisticated oil-painter, and he had brought with him to Rome the latest developments in oil-painting technique from Venice, never seen before in Rome. At the same time, he must have met Michelangelo who saw the potential for collaborating with Sebastiano in order to marginalise Raphael.


More from The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Michelangelo & Sebastiano (4 videos)