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:
- Bramante and Raphael were Leonardo da Vinci's friends, and they did not like Michelangelo. Da Vinci and Michelangelo were superstar artists who criticized each other at every opportunity.
- Michelangelo at first tried to refuse the commission, claiming he was a sculptor and not a painter. But the pope insisted.
- The arduous project required the artist to use a wooden scaffold that raised him to within inches of the ceiling. After four years of work, he revealed his masterpiece.