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" . 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
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