(from the Time-Life book ‘The World of Michelangelo’ by Robert Coughlan)

Only Michelangelo could have taken on two such awesome commissions as the Sistine chapel ceilings and the Last Judgement and turned them into translucent masterpieces. He was just 33 when he began the ceiling, and he poured all his youthful energy into it. Working on a scaffold high above the floor, his beard pointing to heaven and his face splattered with “a rich mosaic” of paint, so affected his eyes that for months after he could read mail from his father and brothers only by holding the letters above his head. Increasingly he realized the Herculean nature of his labours: “I strain more than any man who ever lived…and with great exhaustion: and yet I have the patience to arrive at the desired goal.”

After four years of lacerating toil, during which time he worked almost unaided, the ceiling was done, its 5,800 square feet (539 square metres) of surface peopled with a race of giants – more than 300 figures, although the original plan had called for only 12.