Palazzo della Cancelleria, one of the grandest Renaissance palaces in Rome, was built (c. 1485 - c. 1513) for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471-84).
Raffaele Riario was appointed a cardinal in 1477 at the tender age of seventeen and a few years later he became titular cardinal of the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, which is part of the palace.
According to legend, Palazzo della Cancelleria was partly funded from the profits of a single night’s gambling, when Cardinal Riario won the princely sum of 60,000 scudi while playing dice with Franceschetto Cybo, the illegitimate son of Pope Innocent VIII (r. 1484-92).
The palazzo has been attributed to both Donato Bramante and Andrea Bregno. The piano nobile is distinguished by its greater height, richer carving and a profusion of roses (Raffaele Riario's coat of arms comprises a single wild rose), proclaiming the cardinal’s rank, power and prestige.
The long inscription on the facade reads: 'RAPHAEL RIARIVS SAVONENSIS SANCTI GEORGII DIACONVS CARDINALIS SANCTAE ROMANAE ECCLESSIAE CAMERARIVS A SYXTO III PONTIFICE MAXIMO HONORIBVS AC FORTVNIS HONESTATVS TEMPLVM DIVO LAVRENTIO MARTYRI DICATVM ET AEDIS A FVNDAMENTIS SVA IMPENSA FECIT MCCCCLXXXXV ALEXANDRO VI P M'.
The palazzo's beautiful courtyard has a double loggia. The granite columns come from the ancient Theatre of Pompey, which once stood nearby.
In 1516 Cardinal Riario was involved in a plot to murder Pope Leo X (r. 1513-1521) and was imprisoned in Castel Sant' Angelo. Although he was eventually acquitted, he was ordered to hand over his palace to the Vatican. The pope duly installed the offices of the Apostolic Chancellery (Cancelleria Apostolica), hence its name.
The palace thus became the home of the second most powerful cleric in Rome, the Vice-Chancellor. Palazzo della Cancelleria is still the property of the Vatican, enjoying extra-territorial status.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
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