The 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 age of just 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, the 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 profusion of heraldic signs (roses were the emblems of the Riario family), proclaiming the cardinal’s rank, power and prestige.
In the centre of the palace is a beautiful courtyard with a double colonnade. 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 the 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. The Palazzo della Cancelleria is still the property of the Vatican, enjoying extra-territorial status.
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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
small-group walking tours
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