|THE PALACE - THE ORIGINS|
Palazzo Sforza –Cesarini was built by cardinal Rodrigo, probably on the structure of a
pre-existing building which was the seat of Papal Mint.
It is reported by two documents of the time. One, a document dated February 23rd, 1458, concerned the sale to Cardinal Borgia of the Mint, which was situated on the Via “dicitur Recta” (“so-called Recta” Street), a name attributed to many streets, near the church of S. Biagio della Pagnotta.
The act specifies that the palace’s premises also served as public mint on behalf of the Camera Apostolica.
The second, in the Commentari of Pope Pio II, written around 1492, he mentioned the Palazzo Sforza when he described the procession for the arrival St. Andrew’s head in Rome. In this passage, he calls the Palazzo the seat of the mint, and describes it as adorned with a rich display of tapestries and marvellous works of art.
Rodrigo Borgia lived in the Palazzo, being Vice Chancellor of the Church, an office he had been appointed to by his uncle Pope Callisto III in 1457. Hence, the name Cancelleria with which the Palazzo was referred to, as it can be found in many antique descriptions.
Around 1465, Gaspare da Verona writes about the Palazzo as already completed, adding that it was one of the most magnificent buildings in Italy, and noting that the Cardinal covered the construction costs thank to a sum inherited from the death of Pietro Borgia in 1453.
The historian Donati mentions the palace as one of the most famous of that time in Rome. In 1484, in a letter sent to Milan to his brother Ludovico the Moor, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza describes the palace’s furniture with wonder. In 1492, Rodrigo Borgia was elected pope with the name Alessandro VI (1492 1503).
He invested Cardinal Ascanio Sforza with the position of Vice Chancellor, thus entitling him to live in the Cancelleria. After Cardinal Ascanio’s death in 1505, the office of Vice Chancellor, together with the use of the Palazzo, were given by Pope Giulio II to his nephew, Cardinal Galeotto della Rovere, who died in 1508. To him we owe the restoration and many improvements made to the building, as described by Francesco Albertini: “Domus Cancelleriae, quam Roderigo Borgia Vicecancellarius reparavit, Geleoctus vero Nepos tuae Sanctitatis vicecancell. multis in locis ampliavit ac status marmoreis ac pulcherrimis picturis exornavit” (The Cancelleria, restored by Vice Chancellor Rodrigo Borgia, was enlarged by Galeotto, Your Holiness’ nephew, who also adorned it with marble statues and exquisite paintings).
Govio describes a room that Cardinal Galeotto della Rovere had decorated with various and strange emblems, made of golden stucco works, he writes, “such as to make the Camerlingo Guido Ascanio Sforza, who inhabits that room, marvel and rejoice”. Galeotto’s interventions are remembered on the marble upper frame of a door on the ground floor, under the XVIII century porch which shows the engraved words ‘GAL VICECANCEL’.
In 1508, Sisto Gara della Rovere (another nephew of Giulio II) succeeded Galeotto in the office of Vice Chancellor. Sisto Gara died on March, 8th 1517, and he was probably the last cardinal to perform the duties of Vice-Chancellor on the Palazzo’s premises. Certainly, his successor cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (later Clemente VII) could not immediately move into the Palazzo because Sisto Gara’s funerals were still to be celebrated. According to the Ratti, however, the Chancery was transferred from Palazzo della Cancelleria to Palazzo Riario.
In 1521, a conspiracy against Leone X was uncovered that also involved Cardinal Raffaele Riario, and his palace was confiscated.
From then on, Palazzo Riario changed its name to Palazzo della Cancelleria, while the palace on Via de’ Banchi Vecchi was renamed Cancelleria Vecchia.
In 1512, Massimiliano Sforza, Duke of Milan, had donated the palace, which he thought he owned, to Monsignor Ottaviano M. Sforza, bishop of Lodi.
Ratti, in his works, assumes that Leone X had given the palace to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, as it is confirmed by the episode in which Francesco himself let, in 1522, the palace to Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci.
However, Francesco II controlled the palace, even if he couldn’t consider it his own, until his death in October 1535.
In that same year, the Camera Apostolica again took possession of the Palazzo thanks to a credit of 20,000 golden ducats which the Camera had with the Duke of Milan. Later, Paolo III himself donated the palace to Cardinal Guido Ascanio Sforza and his brothers Carlo, Mario, Alessandro, Mario and Paolo Sforza.
On May 23rd 1541, with an act by Notary Agostino Bonvicini, Monsignor Ottaviano Sforza donated the palace to Cardinal Guidascanio, renouncing the rights he could have acquired from Duke Massimiliano’s donation.
In 1555, Cardinal Guidascanio, with the intention of preserving the family estate, and with his brothers’ consent, established a deed of trust which allowed a mutual transfer of property, as well as the possibility of substitution among each descent line. At that time, Cardinal Guidascanio created a clause in which Palazzo Sforza could be inhabited only by the family’s clergymen, on the condition that they provide for its maintenance and restoration.
After the death of Cardinal Guidascanio (1564), due to the clause, the palace was occupied by Cardinal Alessandro (who died in 1581) and then by Cardinal Francesco starting in 1583.
During the occupation of the palace by Cardinal Francesco the collapse, or possibly demolition, of the side facing Via dei Banchi Vecchi, caused the non-clergy of the family, lead by Duke Alessandro to begin a case against the Cardinal, claiming his neglect of palace maintenance, in order to take back the palace.
The case lasted until 1680, when an agreement was reached between Monsignor Massimiliano and Duke Ludovico in which the Duke was granted use of the palace with the agreement that Monsignor Massimiliano, upon the death of the Duke, would be allowed to return.
In reality, the palace was from then on definitively taken over by those who were not clergymen in the family. Upon the death of Duke Ludovico in 1685, the building was occupied by Duke Francesco and followed by Duke Federico, which began the Sforza-Cesarini genealogy.
There is a description of the palace at early 1600, as reported in a “Description of the Houses” by an anonymous writer.