3 May 2017

Raffaele Riario – Cardinal

Patron of arts linked with murder conspiracies

Raffaele Riario captured in Raphael's 1512 painting of Mass at Bolsena
Raffaele Riario captured in Raphael's 1512
painting of Mass at Bolsena
Renaissance Cardinal Raffaele Riario was born Raffaele Sansoni Galeoti Riario on this day in 1461 in Savona.

A patron of the arts, he is remembered for inviting Michelangelo to Rome and commissioning Palazzo della Cancelleria to be built. He was also embroiled in murder conspiracies which nearly cost him his life.

Although Riario was born in poverty, his mother was a niece of Francesco della Rovere, who became Pope Sixtus IV in 1471.

As a relative of the Pope he was created a Cardinal in 1477 and was named administrator of several dioceses, which gave him a good income at the age of 16, while he was studying canon law at the University of Pisa.

On his way to Rome in 1478, Riario stopped off in Florence, where he became a witness to the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici. The Pazzi family wanted to replace the Medici as rulers of Florence. They attempted to assassinate Lorenzo, who was wounded but survived, and his brother Giuliano, who was killed, while they were attending mass in the Duomo. The conspirators were caught and executed and Riario was also arrested because he was related to Girolamo Riario, his uncle, who was one of the masterminds behind the plot. However, Lorenzo arranged for him to be released a few weeks later.

Sandro Botticelli's portrait of Giuliano de' Medici, murdered in the Pazzi conspiracy
Sandro Botticelli's portrait of Giuliano de'
Medici, murdered in the Pazzi conspiracy
In 1480 Riario was ordained a priest and received the entitlement of San Lorenzo in Damaso. He commissioned a palace to be built next to the church for his personal residence.

Riario became involved in the war between the Orsini family and the Colonna family four years later. He tried in vain to save the life of one of his friends, who was charged with murdering one of the Orsini, but the friend was executed on the orders of Pope Sixtus IV.

In the Conclave of 1492 he voted for Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, and was rewarded with a lucrative bishopric for his support. He went on to gain distinction as a diplomat during the Borgia pope’s reign.

A lover of art and sculpture, Riario’s large palace was influenced by Florentine architecture. He noticed the talent of the young Michelangelo and invited him to Rome, where Michelangelo was to work on the major pieces of his career.

In 1517 there was a conspiracy to murder Pope Leo X and although Riario did not participate in it, he is believed to have been aware of it and done nothing to prevent it.

Leo arrested the conspirators and ordered their execution but Riario saved himself by giving his palace next to San Lorenzo in Damaso to the pope.

It became the seat of the Apostolic Chancery and was known thereafter as Palazzo della Cancelleria.

Riario died in Naples at the age of 60 and was buried in a tomb in Basilica dei Santi Apostoli in Rome.

The Palazzo della Cancelleria is believed to be the earliest Renaissance palace in Rome
The Palazzo della Cancelleria is believed to be the
earliest Renaissance palace in Rome
Travel tip:

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, the Papal Chancellery, is believed to be the earliest Renaissance palace in Rome. It was designed by Donato Bramante and built between 1489 and 1513 as a palace for Cardinal Raffaele Riario. The rumour was that the funds for the build came from a single night’s gambling winnings. The palace is now a property of the Holy See and has been designated a World Heritage Site. Just to the south of the square named after the palace, Piazza della Cancelleria, is the Campo dè Fiori, the site of a market in Rome for centuries, which has plenty of bars and restaurants and is a popular nightspot when the markets stalls have all been packed away.

Savona's baroque Cattedrale di Nostra Signora Assunta
Savona's baroque Cattedrale di Nostra
Signora Assunta
Travel tip:

Savona is the third largest city in Liguria and the fifth largest port in Italy yet its reputation as a sprawling industrial zone is unfair. It has an attractive medieval centre, with an elegant baroque Cattedrale di Nostra Signora Assunta, behind which is Italy’s other Sistine Chapel, like the Rome version erected by Pope Sixtus IV. Fishing boats share the harbour with expensive yachts and there is a good beach within walking distance of the centre. In between the beach and the harbour is the 16th century Priamar fortress, which served as a prison during most of the 19th century.

More reading:

Girolamo Riario and the plot to overthrow the Medicis

How Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo's greatest work

Why the Renaissance pope Leo X supported the arts

Also on this day:

1469: The birth of statesman and diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli


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