Sunday, March 6, 2016

An unexpected discovery: an Englishman's house in Renaissance Rome.

Not too far from the Pantheon, near the Chiesa della Maddalena, we find what is reputedly Rome’s smallest square: Piazza Rondanini, along the Via del Pozzo delle Cornacchie. The piazza takes its name from its main building: the Palazzo Rondanini. 

The Rondanini Palace

The history of the Palazzo is quite interesting: it was built in the early years of the 16th century for the English prelate Thomas Wolsey who was appointed Cardinal titular of St. Cecilia in Trastevere in 1515. 

The early coat of arms of Henry VIII

Unfortunately, the Cardinal died in 1530 in Leicester before he could even visit the palace. On the first floor, in what is now the restaurant “Le Volte” there is a room with the original 16th century fresco decoration in the Renaissance grotesque style with the arms of Henry VIII. The fascinating fresco is in the Roman Renaissance style, there are painted trees on the walls of the room, creating the illusion of being in a garden, this was a very popular theme then. The palace was built on the semi-circular walls of the baths of Nero.

The Renassaince fresco from Wolsey's palazzo

After Wolsey, one of the first owners of the palazzo was Cardinal Tiberio Crispo, very close to the Farnese and in particular to Alessandro (Pope Paul III) who commissioned frescoes attributed to Raffaellino del Colle that still decorate the Piano Nobile of the palazzo. After his death the Boncompagni acquired the palace, then it passed to the Neapolitan cardinal Alfonso Gesualdo who sold it to Gianfranco Aldobrandini in 1596, nephew of Clemens VIII. He commissioned the restoration of the palace to Ottaviano Mascarino. In 1688 Cardinal Paolo Emilio Rondanini bought the palazzo which still brings his family name, later also the piazza took it, until then it was known as “Piazza di Aquili”, from the famous family of Roman Renaissance painters that lived and worked there, such as Antoniazzo Romano and Marcantonio Aquili. The palace’s name changed into Palazzo Rondanini alla Rotonda to distinguish it from the other Rondanini palace on the Via del Corso. Despite all the different owners the palace still displays the beautiful frescoes with the late Medieval English coat of arms, making it an Englishman's house in Renaissance Rome.

Detail of the Renaissance fresco with the garden illusion from Wolsey's palazzo

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