History of the palace
Feudal lord Agostino Cusani (1592-1640) wanted a residence fit for his family’s standing. He appointed the architect Francesco Maria Richini (1584-1658) to produce the design. Later, another Agostino, this time Cardinal Cusani (1655-1730), wanted to make the complex more sumptuous, so he extended it and had an artistic façade added between 1712 and 1719, which was the Austrian period. Generally seen as the prototype for early 18th-century Lombard architecture, it is thought to be the work of architect Giovanni Ruggeri. Even today the façade remains lavish, but solemn, robust but incisive, mixing decorative elements with clear Roman, Lombard and Borrominian stylistic touches, along with a few late baroque additions. Further improvements were added between 1775 and 1779 by Ferdinando Cusani (1737-1815), who was responsible for the artistic arrangement of the internal façade. He also added a magnificent garden, appointing Vanvitelli's favourite pupil, architect Giuseppe Piermarini (1734-1808) to oversee the work. Three Austrian cannon balls embedded in Piermarini’s façade are a reminder of the siege of Castello Sforzesco by Napoleonic troops during the Italian campaign (1796-1797), a lightening assault that resulted in the conquest of Lombardy and the formation of the Cisalpine Republic. Ferdinando’s son, Luigi Cusani (1769-1836), was a notorious gambler, leaving him unable to afford the upkeep of the building and so, in 1808, he sold it to the (Napoleonic) Kingdom of Italy, which used it for the War Ministry.
In 1814, with the fall of Napoleon and the Kingdom, the assets that had been seized by the French became the property of the new Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia (a part of the Austrian Empire), of which Milan was the capital. The building then became the headquarters of the Austrian Military Command of Lombardy. Later, in 1859 after Lombardy was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia, it became the HQ for the Italian military commands. Importantly, in 1884, the Command of the 3rd Army Corps was moved there from Verona following the efforts of Minister Ferrero. Since then, excluding times of war in which the Command was mobilised to the battle theatre, the Command of the 3rd Army Corps has always been based in Palazzo Cusani, although it did change its name to the III Territorial Military Command from April 1945 to June 1957. In the months following Liberation, the General Command of the Volunteers of the Freedom Corps under the orders of General Raffaele Cadorna was housed there. Despite numerous upgrades during the period of Austrian rule and in the early 20th century, most of the original 18th-century decorations on the ‘piano nobile’ remain intact. The bombardment of Milan in 1943 did not spare Palazzo Cusani and, ten years later, the restorer Guido Gregorietti worked on some of the painted surfaces that had been damaged and mounted on canvas the 17th-century frescoes that were discovered in some spaces in the roof vaults during restoration work. Thus, the restorations brought to light works that had been hidden for different reasons in the past. Home to the Command of the 3rd Army Corps from 1884 to 2001, it is now the national headquarters of the NATO Rapid Deployable Corps Italy, often simply known as NRDC-ITA.