Contrary to popular lore, Michelangelo did not paint the chapel’s ceiling lying flat on his back. According to Ross, his posture on the scaffold can best be described by the Italian term “resupinus,” meaning “bent backward.” Because the chapel’s center aisle had to remain clear for the clergy and their religious activities, a standard, ground-based scaffold would have been unacceptable, as its supports would have blocked the aisles. For this reason, Michelangelo’s scaffold rose sixty feet high and allowed him and his assistant to stand up to paint the ceiling. Furthermore, although it is widely believed that Michelangelo painted the entire ceiling by himself, this is simply untrue, according to Ross. The artist, in fact, had as many as twelve assistants helping him to complete the job—a legendary commission that took a little more than four years to complete.
“Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling” (Walker & Co., 2003)