The Palazzone is situated outside Cortona, in the province of Arezzo, in the vicinity of a spring by the name of Cumula. Its monumental appearance, with its imposing tower and crenellated surrounding walls, and its setting in the hills of the countryside around Cortona among centuries-old cypresses and olive groves, makes this villa one of the most successful examples of the taste for architecture of the city-state period typical of the Renaissance cardinals' courts.
Known as Palazzo del Popolo from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, it became the site of the Ufficio delle Gabelle in 1411; from 1512 onwards the building became the most emblematic image of the fervid cultural climate created at Cortona around the figure of Silvio Passerini. A staunch supporter of the Medici family as early as 1494, when he was introduced by his father Rosado to the court of Florence and to an ecclesiastical career, Silvio lost no time in cultivating friends of a certain status, among them Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, by whose side he fought on the French front, going as far as to share with him a period of oppressive imprisonment; in gratitude for this, on becoming Pope Leo X in 1513 Giovanni nominated him a cardinal within the papal walls.
On 14th February 1514, at the intercession of Duke Lorenzo de’ Medici, the commanders of Cortona on the Guelfi side bestowed on Silvio, «faithful and intimate servant of the Pope» (as he is defined according to a reliable source from the late nineteenth century), the ancient Palazzo del Popolo, situated halfway up the slope of a hill overlooking the Val di Chiana. Thus began a series of restructuring works on various buildings of medieval origin reflecting the figurative culture of Cortona with scenes from both sixteenth century and Roman life. As also mentioned in the Giuntina edition of Vasari's Vite (Lives) (1568), the structural work on the Palazzo appears to have been entrusted by Passerini to the painter and architect from Perugia Giovan Battista Caporali, a pupil of Perugino and a friend of artists of the time such as Pinturicchio, Bramante and Signorelli. Caporali appears not only to have worked on the twin rectangular rooms on the ground floor from which the adjacent architectonic plan of the building would develop (the flight of stairs accessing the Palazzo on the left side, the outside access to the first room in alignment with the right hand room and the subsequent widening of the building on the side of the tower), but also to have co-ordinated the frescoes of the rooms, still an object of the utmost historical and figurative interest within the confines of the Palazzone. Existing side by side with the frescoes by Caporali and by Cortona-born Papacello, promoters at Cortona of the late Raffaello-esque style of Giulio Romano, is Luca Signorelli's painting of the Baptism of Christ in the small chapel situated on the opposite side of the original rooms; the painting was not completed by the artist «because while he was working on it», according to Vasari, «he died, being eighty two years of age».
Thus, like other architectonic complexes of the Scuola Normale, the Palazzone, donated to the Normale in 1968 by Count Lorenzo Passerini, reveals in its various stages of construction and changing ownership suggestive layers of history of great cultural interest. It's hosts cultural and scientific initiatives, incluse the scientific conferences of the faculties, laboratories and research groups of the Scuola Normale, with illustrious speakers from over the world.