Michelangelo & Sebastiano: In focus

Personal and political

In the 1520s births, deaths, popes, and politics shaped the artists’ lives and friendship.

The completion of The Raising of Lazarus in December 1519 coincided with the birth of Sebastiano’s first son, Luciano, for whom Michelangelo stood as godfather. The affectionate tone of their letters at this time suggests an increasingly profound relationship. The death of their rival Raphael in April 1520, led to further commissions for Sebastiano, who took over the decoration of two chapels for Agostino Chigi, in the churches of S. Maria della Pace and S. Maria del Popolo, on which Raphael had been working.

The election of Giulio de’ Medici as Pope Clement VII (reigned 1523–1534) in 1523 was also advantageous for his friends, Michelangelo and Sebastiano. The mood of optimism about his election is reflected in Sebastiano’s resplendent portrait of Clement from 1525–6. However, his political hesitations ended in disaster – the sack of Rome by imperial troops in 1527. The evidence indicates that Sebastiano remained by the pope’s side during the seven-month siege he endured in the Roman Castel Sant’Angelo following the sack.

Sebastiano del Piombo, ‘Portrait of Clement VII’, 1525-6. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples (Q147) © Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale di Napoli

Sebastiano del Piombo, ‘Portrait of Clement VII’, 1525–6. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples (Q147) © Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale di Napoli

Sebastiano’s portrait of Clement from about 1531 shows a weakened man, with the penitent beard he had grown in recognition of his failings. That same year the pope rewarded the artist’s loyalty to him by appointing him ‘piombatore’. This came with a stipend and entitled him to wield the lead seal, or ‘piombo’, of the apostolic office, earning him his nickname.

Sebastiano del Piombo, ‘Pope Clemente VII with a beard’, about 1531. Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples (Q141)© Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale di Napoli

Sebastiano del Piombo, ‘Pope Clemente VII with a beard’, about 1531. Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples (Q141) © Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale di Napoli

Viewing page 6 (7)
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7