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(In the XVth century) one of the noble families of the city, having become more powerful, richer, and influential than any other in the town, gradually made themselves lords of the little commonwealth. These were the Vitelli; and all that the city still retains, that is remarkable, consists of traces and memorials of their wealth and greatness.
Thomas Adolphus Trollope (brother of novelist Anthony Trollope) - A Lenten Journey in Umbria and the Marches - 1862
Palazzo (Vitelli) in Piazza and its portal
Some Vitelli were condottieri (warlords), others were cardinals, but the founders of the wealth of the family were merchants. In 1381 Gerozzo Vitelli was appointed Abbondanziere of Cittą di Castello, i.e. he was in charge of ensuring vital supplies to the town. The palace which his successors built in the main square was known as Palazzo dell'Abbondanza because of its large warehouse. This part of the building is behind the front on the piazza which was built in 1545.
In the XVth century the Vitelli acquired a political role in the government of Cittą di Castello; they were favoured by some popes (e.g. Eugenius IV) and had to deal with the hostility of others (e.g. Sixtus IV and Alexander VI).
(left) Palazzo a S. Giacomo; (right) details of other Vitelli buildings in Rione S. Florido
The status of the Vitelli improved in 1522 when Vitello Vitelli married Angela de Rossi. Her father belonged to a noble family from Parma with links to the German emperors and her mother Bianca Riario was a relative of the family of Pope Sixtus IV, of the Medici of Florence and of the Sforza of Milan. It is uncertain when exactly she moved to Palazzo a S. Giacomo (one of the quarters of the town), whether when she was still the wife of Vitello or after his death in 1528 and her marriage to Alessandro, her husband's cousin in 1530. She ensured the continuity of the dynasty by bearing thirteen Vitelli children.
Palazzo alla Cannoniera
A series of apparently aimless turnings round
sharp corners, among buildings that looked as if
they had been "in Chancery" for the last half
century, brought us at last to our inn, the inn
"La Cannoniera!" and all the misgivings which
the appearance of the city was calculated to suggest
as to the character of the accommodation it was likely
to afford, were dispelled. The "Cannoniera" is as
good an inn as a tired traveller need wish to meet
with. Thomas Adolphus Trollope
Alessandro Vitelli spent almost all his life on the battlefield. He fought for Emperor Charles V, for the Medici and eventually for Pope Paul III. He then entered the service of Charles V again and fought in Hungary and Germany. For his rare days at Cittą di Castello he commissioned a palace which is called after a cannon foundry it housed.
Palazzo alla Cannoniera
Graffito is a painting technique which was very popular in the XVIth century to decorate faēades of palaces (it was rarely used for churches). Palazzo alla Cannoniera retains the whole graffiti decoration of the rear faēade which was painted by Cristoforo Gherardi based on a plan designed by Giorgio Vasari. Today the palace houses the Civic Museum.
Palazzo alla Cannoniera
When the decoration was being made Alessandro Vitelli was under the service of the Medici and his palace was decorated with their coat of arms and the motto "semper" (always) which alludes to the perpetuity of the Medici dynasty. The vases holding three crescents in the lower part of the image were probably added after Alessandro Vitelli fought against the Ottomans in Hungary (you can see them better in the image used as background for this page).
Rome still has several palaces decorated with graffiti, but they are smaller than Palazzo alla Cannoniera (you may wish to see Palazzo Ricci or Palazzo Istoriato).
Palazzo a S. Egidio: (above) faēade of the main building; (below) gardens
Paolo II Vitelli, nephew of Alessandro, spent his military career under the service of the Farnese Dukes of Parma. He mainly fought in Italy, but in 1571 he took part in the Battle of Lepanto. According to tradition he designed himself the grand palace he built at S. Egidio, another quarter of Cittą di Castello. The faēade of the building has an unusual ratio between width and height. The palace included a large garden which ended with a second smaller building.
Palazzo a S. Egidio: (left) portico which separated the monumental part of the gardens from that which was farmed; "villino" (small building) at the end of the gardens
The gardens attached to this princely residence
were very famous in their day, having been laid out,
in that regular and stately fashion, which was in
vogue. (..) They were full of all
those waterwork contrivances, which were so much
admired by the sixteenth century gardeners; and
had been abundantly supplied with water brought at
an enormous cost from the hills bounding the wide
valley of the Tiber to the eastward. They were long
celebrated also for their noble plane-trees, said to
have been many centuries old. But the water conduits have been broken, and the trees cut down. Thomas Adolphus Trollope
The complex is now owned by a local bank and the facilities of the gardens are being repaired.
(left) Detail of Palazzo a S. Egidio; (right-above) coat of arms of the Vitelli (left) and the de Rossi (right) at Palazzo alla Cannoniera; (right-below) crescent at Palazzo a S. Egidio
In the second half of the XVIth century warlords had not many opportunities to show their talents and the Vitelli turned to ecclesiastical careers and lost interest in Cittą di Castello and the family palaces. Vitellozzo Vitelli, son of Alessandro was appointed cardinal at the age of 26. The Vitelli acquired a property in Rome which in 1600 they sold to Pope Clement VIII and which is known as Villa Aldobrandini. Other ecclesiastical members of the family contributed to the embellishment of S. Marcello al Corso.
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