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 Essential Architecture-  ROME

Chancellery Palace Palazzo della Cancelleria


unknown Influenced by Alberti. long facade. 


Rome, Italy (situated between the present Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Campo de' Fiori)


1483 to 1517


Italian Rennaisance


System cut stone bearing masonry


  Palazzo della Cancelleria: the 18th century engraving by Giuseppe Vasi exaggerates the depth of the square, where the Corso Vittorio Emanuele now runs.
  The courtyard by Bramante

The Palazzo della Cancelleria ("Palace of the Chancellery", meaning the Papal Chancellery) in Rome is situated between the present Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Campo de' Fiori. It was constructed between 1485-1513, being the first palazzo in Rome to be built from the ground up in the new Renaissance style. The long façade with its rhythm of flat doubled pilasters between the arch-headed windows is Florentine in conception, comparable to Alberti's Palazzo Rucellai. The grand doorway was added in the 16th century by Domenico Fontana on the orders of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.

The building's bone-colored travertine was scavenged from the nearby Roman ruins of Pompey's Theater, for the Eternal City was a field of ruins, built for a city of over a million people that now housed some thirty thousand. The great Egyptian porphyry columns of Donato Bramante's inner courtyard of tiered arcades, reputed one of the finest ever built, came from the same antique source.

In the central rectangular courtyard, the two lower floors are represented by open arcaded loggias. While opinion of the architect's identity is divided between Bramante and Bregna, the courtyard is generally attributed to Bramante - the inspiration, however, is definitely Brunelleschi's cloisters of Santa Croce in Florence, which also inspired the courtyard of Luciano Laurana's Ducal Palace, of circa 1468, at Urbino. Here, as at Santa Croce delicate columns support Serlian arches. Above the arcades the street facade, the flat and subtle theme, which appears almost as trompe l'oeil, is repeated, but here in the court yard it is clear that this austere architecture represents floors of secondary importance only.

The Cancelleria was built for Cardinal Raffaele Riario who held the post of Vice Chancellor to his powerful uncle, Pope Sixtus IV: thus his palace has always been the Cancelleria (Chancellery). The rumor was that the funds came in a single night's winnings at gaming. From 1753 the vice-chancellor happened to be the Jacobite pretender to the throne of Great Britain, Henry Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York, the Jacobite "Henry IX of Great Britain" [1]. It still houses the Papal Chancellery, and is an exclave of the Vatican, not subject to Italian sovereignty.

The palazzo's long façade engulfs the small Basilica Church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, the Cardinal's titular church, that sits to its right, with the palatial front continuing straight across: the entrance to the church is on the right side of the facade. The 5th century church (its interior has been rebuilt) sits, like the church of Saint Clement among others, upon a Roman mithraeum; excavations beneath the cortile in 1988 – 1991 revealed the 4th and 5th Century foundations of the grand basilica of San Lorenzo in Damaso, founded by pope Damasus I, and one of the most important early Christian churches in Rome. A cemetery in use from the 8th century until shortly before the palazzo's construction was also identified.

In 1513, the just-completed palazzo was seized by the first Medici Pope, Leo X, who had not forgotten the complacency of Sixtus at the time of the murderous Pazzi conspiracy designed to replace the Medici in Florence with a Della Rovere regime.

In the palazzo is a vast mural that Giorgio Vasari accomplished in a mere 100 days. He breathlessly boasted of his facility to Michelangelo, who responded "Si vede" ("it shows"). In the palazzo a little private theatre was installed by Pietro Cardinal Ottoboni, and in the later 17th century the Cancelleria became a center of the musical life of Rome. During the Roman Republic of 1849, the Roman parliament briefly sat here.