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At his death he was the oldest member of the College of Cardinals, the last surviving cardinal elevated to that rank during the 19th century, and the next to last surviving cardinal named by Pope Leo XIII.[a]
His older brother Serafino (1834–1915) was also a cardinal.
Vincenzo Vannutelli was born in Genazzano, Diocese of Palestrina, Lazio. He studied at the Collegium Capranica and the Pontifical Gregorian University. He was ordained a priest on 23 December 1860 and spent several years as a seminary faculty member.
In December 1889 Pope Leo XIII named him a cardinal in pectore, i.e., secretly. His appointment was publicly announced at a consistory in 1890, where he was named Cardinal-Priest of San Silvestro in Capite. His elevation to the rank of cardinal was an exception to a rule established in 1586 that barred the pope from naming a cardinal's brother a cardinal. Vincenzo's brother Serafino (1834–1915) had been made a cardinal in 1887 and was still living.[b]
Vannutelli became prefect of the economy of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in 1892 and held that position for ten years. On 16 December 1896 he was named Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
He became Cardinal-Bishop of Palestrina in 1900. With Cardinal Pietro Gasparri he was one of the principals responsible for the codification of canon law begun by Pope Pius X in 1904 and completed thirteen years later. Vannutelli also served as prefect of the Commission for the Revision of the Provincial Councils from 1902 until 1908, which was charged with interpreting the documents of past councils according to recent papal rulings.
In 1906, he reported receiving a blackmail letter threatening to publish compromising letters he was said to have written if the sender was not paid 1,000 lire. He notified the police, and a man was arrested.
He succeeded his brother Serafino as Dean of the College of Cardinals in 1915.
He died in Rome on 9 July 1930.