(active 1480-1511 in Rome)

Exterior view

Palazzo della Cancelleria, Rome

Built c. 1485-1511 as the palace of Raffaele Cardinal Riario, the Palazzo della Cancelleria was later used as the offices of the papal chancery and, under Napoleon, as law courts. It stands on the Piazza della Cancelleria and is now the residence of the Cardinal-Vicar of Rome.

The palace is one of the most important and influential examples of 15th-century Roman architecture, but no documentation identifies its architects. Suggestions have included Baccio Pontelli, Antonio da Sangallo, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, and Andrea Bregno. Vasari attributed a share in it to Bramante, but Bramante did not arrive in Rome until 1499 and could not have been the original architect; some scholars see his influence in the courtyard. Raffaele Riario, great-nephew of Sixtus IV, traditionally financed the palace with the winnings of one night's gambling. It was taken from the Riario family after they were involved in a plot against Pope Leo X; the offices of the papal chancery were then installed. The church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, rebuilt with the palace, was incorporated into its fabric.

The long travertine façade, probably completed by 1495, is an elegant and delicate combination of flat rustication with paired pilasters on the first and second storeys; it is framed with slight protruding end bays. The windows are based on an ancient Roman prototype. The design, which reflects the influence of Alberti's Palazzo Rucellai, Florence, has been interpreted as combining elements typical of Florence, Urbino, and Rome. The wild rose, the Riario family emblem, is used in the decoration. The large portal, designed by Domenico Fontana, was added in 1589. The ground floor of the side flank incorporates shops; the Cancelleria was the first Renaissance palace to revive this ancient Roman tradition. The simple and harmonious courtyard features superimposed open loggias and a closed second storey decorated with pilasters. It is said that the 44 granite columns were taken from the Theatre of Pompey (ded. 55 BC) and that stones from the Colosseum were used for general building purposes.

View the ground plan of the palace.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.