In 1496 Michelangelo was in Rome for the first time. There he was commissioned to carve a Pieta. This was a marble group showing the Virgin Mary supporting the dead Christ on her knees. This superb sculpture, known as the 'Madonna della Pieta', won him wide fame. One of the few works signed by Michelangelo, it now stands in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. When he was 26 Michelangelo returned to Florence. He was given an 18-foot (5.5-meter) marble block that another sculptor had already started to carve. The block was nearly ruined. Michelangelo worked on it for more than two years. Out of its huge mass, and in spite of the difficulties caused by the first sculptor's work, he carved his youthful, courageous 'David'. This is one of the world's greatest statues.
Between 1508 and 1512 Michelangelo painted the vaulted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome with hundreds of giant figures that made up his vision of the world's creation. He worked on a scaffold 60 feet (18 meters) above the floor and covered 10,000 square feet (930 square meters) of surface. Most of the time he painted while he lay on his back in a tight, cramped position. Each day fresh plaster was laid over a part of the ceiling. Michelangelo then had to complete that portion while the plaster was still wet. He could not repaint mistakes. Except for a man who laid the plaster and another who ground and mixed the paints, Michelangelo completed the whole fresco painting by himself.
The nine main scenes depict the story of Genesis from the Creation to the Flood. Other scenes show the ancestry of Christ, stirring moments in Bible history, and the Hebrew prophets and pagan gods dreaming of the good that was coming to the world. The painting is huge and majestic in every detail.