Michelangelo took the commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which took approximately four years to complete (1508–1512). According to Michelangelo’s account, Bramante and Raphael convinced the Pope to commission Michelangelo in a medium not familiar to the artist. This was done in order that he, Michelangelo, would suffer unfavorable comparisons with his rival Raphael, who at the time was at the peak of his own artistry as the primo fresco painter. However, this story is discounted by modern historians on the grounds of contemporary evidence, and may merely have been a reflection of the artist’s own perspective.
Michelangelo was originally commissioned to paint the 12 Apostles against a starry sky, but lobbied for a different and more complex scheme, representing creation, the Downfall of Man and the Promise of Salvation through the prophets and Genealogy of Christ. The work is part of a larger scheme of decoration within the chapel which represents much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
The composition eventually contained over 300 figures and had at its center nine episodes from the Book of Genesis, divided into three groups: God’s Creation of the Earth; God’s Creation of Humankind and their fall from God’s grace; and lastly, the state of Humanity as represented by Noah and his family. On the pendentives supporting the ceiling are painted twelve men and women who prophesied the coming of the Jesus. They are seven prophets of Israel and five Sibyls, prophetic women of the Classical world.
Among the most famous paintings on the ceiling are The Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Great Flood, the Prophet Isaiah and the Cumaean Sibyl. Around the windows are painted the ancestors of Christ.
There is a 3D interactive site on the Sistine Chapel, it is magnificent, you can zoom in and see every detail of each painting on the wall or ceiling, it is well worth a look.
3D Sistine Chapel.