La Disputa, Raffaello Sanzio by Mary Elizabeth Podles

A Thousand Words

La Disputa

Mary Elizabeth Podles on Christian Art

In 1503, Julius II acceded to the papacy as the reform candidate after the notoriously bad Alexander VI. He came to the papacy with ambitious political plans and a far-reaching foreign policy, as well as a large-scale program for patronage of the arts. The old Basilica of St. Peter had developed alarming cracks. Julius, never an indecisive man, ordered it to be pulled down and commissioned a bold new design from the architect Bramante. In addition, Bramante was to redesign and expand the papal palace so that the Vatican presented a modern, unified Renaissance whole.

La Disputa by Raffaello Sanzio
Raphael's La Disputa
Click here to enlarge with identifying labels

Julius was also a man of strong prejudices. So much did he despise his predecessor that he refused to occupy the same apartments and ordered the renovation and decoration of a completely new set for himself. Among the artists he hired for the job was a young man from Bramante's hometown of Urbino, the 25-year-old Raphael. He came in 1508, but such was his talent that in 1509 he was put in charge of the decorative scheme of the whole first room, the Stanza della Segnatura, and produced the astonishing Disputa.

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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.


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