Pope Julius II

Shepherd with Sheep and Mountain Gateway

Gilt Bronze, 56.5 mm Ø, 52.3 g
Obverse:  Bust of Julius II facing right, bareheaded and wearing a cope decorated with arabesques and icons. Around, IVLIVS · LIGVR · PAPA · SECVNDVS · MCCCCCVI (Julius II, Ligurian, Pope, 1506).
Reverse:  A shepherd, seated on a stone under an oak tree, pointing his flock of sheep towards a path leading to a gateway to an enclosure on a mountain. Around, PEDO SERVATAS OVES AD REQVIEM AGO (The sheep that were preserved by the staff I lead to their repose).

Sister medal to the more famous version showing Bramante's design for the new basilica. Modesti suggests that the version showing the building was created to serve as the foundation medal, while this version with an allegorical representation was intended to be distributed in commemoration of the laying of the first stone. The reverse illustration can be viewed as the Pope (represented by the shepherd) indicating to the faithful (the sheep) the new erection of the basilica on the Vatican Hill. The staff referred to in the reverse inscription takes on the dual meaning of a shepherd's staff and a pastoral staff. That the shepherd represents the Pope is further reinforced by the oak tree under which he sits, which is a symbol of the della Rovere family of which Julius (born Giuliano della Rovere) was from. The Italian word "rovere" literally means "oak tree".

Julius II undertook to rebuild the original St. Peter's Basilica which had been erected by the emperor Constantine. Ideas had been considered during the pontificate of Nicholas V for renovating the original structure, which had fallen into ruinous shape, but Julius decided to entirely demolish it and build a new basilica. The design and construction was entrusted to the architect Donato Bramante, who drew plans for a Greek style (square) church topped by a large dome. The first stone was laid by Julius during a ceremony on April 18, 1506. Construction on the basilica would proceed for over a century, passing through the hands and many architects and popes. In the end, the final basilica retains virtually nothing of Bramante's original design.


Ex Michael Hall collection.