Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling is widely hailed as a masterpiece, but there’s an intriguing story behind this cornerstone of High Renaissance art. According to the writings of Giorgio Vasari, Michelangelo was awarded the commission after the architect Donato Bramante and the painter Raphael persuaded Pope Julius II that Michelangelo -- a sculptor with very little painting experience -- could handle the job. But Bramante and Raphael had ulterior motives. They thought the scope of the project -- decorating the upper reaches of the pope's personal chapel in the Vatican with frescoes from the Book of Genesis -- was so vast that Michelangelo would fail miserably, and be humiliated.
Four years to paint a masterpiece: