Villa Aurora will go under the hammer on Tuesday.
Rome’s Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, home to the world’s only ceiling painting by Caravaggio, is up for auction on January 18 with an estimated value of 471 million euros.
The historic villa, which has been called the “auction of the century”, with a minimum opening bid of 353 million euros, is one of the most expensive homes ever put on the market.
The 2,800 sqm property, known as Villa Aurora, is tucked behind high walls near Via Veneto.
It has been owned since 1621 by the noble Ludovisi family, whose descendants include Popes Gregory XIII – who introduced the Gregorian calendar – and Gregory XV.
The death in 2018 of the villa’s last owner, Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, triggered a protracted inheritance battle.
The dispute was between the prince’s three sons from his first marriage and his third wife, the American-born princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, 72, who spent much of the last two decades renovating the property with her deceased husband.
The courts ruled that the 11-bedroom villa should be put up for auction, estimating its value at 471 million euros, much of which is attributed to the Caravaggio mural.
Whoever buys the property, which is protected under Italian cultural heritage law, will have to spend an additional 11 million euros on restoration costs.
An online petition, signed by about 38,000 people so far, is urging the government to use Italy’s National EU Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR), funded mainly by the EU, to buy the Casino dell’Aurora.
Italian newspaper The Republic reported that Culture Minister Dario Franceschini has written to Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Finance Minister Daniele Franco to inquire about the possibility of a state bid.
Under Italian law, the government has a 60-day period to exercise its pre-emptive right under a sale agreement to private investors, Bloomberg reports.
Built in 1570, Villa Aurora was purchased in 1621 by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, nephew of Pope Gregory XV, and was originally used as the family’s hunting lodge.
The property, which was extended in 1858, is all that is left of Villa Ludovisi, a 30-hectare getaway established by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte.
In the late 19th century, most of the estate was sold by the Ludovisi family during Rome’s boom, which led to the creation of the exclusive ‘Ludovisi’ district.
Several of the villa’s rooms are frescoes by the Italian baroque painter Guercino, including one in the main reception hall of the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, who gives the building its name.
The villa is also home to works by Bril, Domenichino, Pomarancio and Viola; a staircase by the architect Carlo Maderno, who designed the facade of St. Peters; and a star collection of ancient statues, including one attributed to Michelangelo.
But the villa’s most precious cultural asset is Caravaggio’s mural of Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, the only known ceiling painting by the Baroque master.
With an estimated value of more than € 310 million, the mural dates to 1597 and was commissioned by Cardinal Del Monte, a diplomat and generous patron of the art.
The mural was discovered in 1968 and was painted in oil on plaster and shows an allegorical scene that reflects the cardinal’s fascination with alchemy.
Jupiter, accompanied by an eagle, represents sulfur and air; Neptune, with a hippocamp, stands for mercury and water; and Pluto, with the three-headed dog Cerberus, represents salt and earth.
In the mural, Jupiter is depicted as reaching out to move the celestial sphere where the sun orbits the earth.
The work measures 2.75 meters wide and can be found on the first floor of a small room that served as the cardinal’s alchemy laboratory.
The villa has a particularly rich history. The property was once part of Horti Sallustiani, a magnificent Roman estate with landscaped gardens, on land originally owned by Julius Caesar.
Over the centuries, the villa has hosted many famous figures, from Galileo to Goethe, and was an important destination for visitors on the Grand Tour.
In his memoirs from 1909 Italian hours, Henry James admired the rooms of the villa and its far-reaching views of Rome.
‘Century Auction’ is scheduled to be held on Tuesday, January 18 at 3 p.m.
Cover image Studio Fori.
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