A villa in central Rome comes under the hammer early next year with an extraordinary trump card: a large fresco by Michelangelo da Caravaggio, the only known ceiling painting attributed to the baroque genius. If the property nears its guide price of $ 545.8 million, it will set a real estate auction record.
Built at the end of the 16th century as a hunting lodge, the Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, commonly known as Villa Aurora, is all that remains of a large 89-acre estate sold to the city at the end of the 19th century. Most of the buildings were demolished to make way for Via Veneto, one of Rome’s most iconic roads, but Villa Aurora remained. It is now located between Via Veneto, the gardens of Villa Borghese and the gate of Porta Pinciana, according to a translated version of the announcement, “In one of the most elegant districts of the capital.
It was first extended in 1858 and now includes nine bathrooms, a pair of elevators “and a cavernous kitchen in the basement,” according to The New York Times, plus nine rooms with ceilings by some of the greatest artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. In another room, a ceiling fresco from 1621 by another Baroque artist Guercino depicting Aurora, the goddess of dawn, on her chariot gives the house its name.
Caravaggio’s mural, painted in 1597, is approximately 10 feet long and 6 feet wide. It depicts the Roman gods Jupiter, Pluto and Neptune surrounding a translucent celestial sphere stamped with the signs of the zodiac, with the Sun and Earth in the background. The Olympian triumvirate, whose faces were modeled on those of Caravaggio, are represented with their respective animal avatars: Jupiter and his eagle, Pluto with his three-headed Cerberus and Neptune astride a hippocampus, or hippocampus. The mural was commissioned by Italian Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, the villa’s second owner and major patron at the start of Caravaggio’s career. Despite Del Monte’s religious vocation, he was a supporter of the sciences and used the second-floor bedroom that housed the mural as a laboratory for alchemy.
According to The Times, the painting allegorizes the theory that the Sun, rather than the Earth, is the center of the universe, a belief the Church considered heresy at the time. (Del Monte was also an ally and patron of Galileo.) The mural alone is worth $ 360 million, University of Sapienza history professor Alessandro Zuccari Recount The Guardian. The artwork had actually been repainted in previous renovations and was not rediscovered until 1968. Painted with oils rather than water-based pigments on fresh plaster, this is technically not a fresco, according to The arts journal.
The 30,000-square-foot property is also home to other priceless works, including a rosewood table handed down by Pope Gregory XIII, creator of the Gregorian calendar, and a red velvet throne belonging to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who built the domain.
Villa Aurora was the ancestral home of Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, who moved into the house with his wife, former American actress Rita Jenrette, in 2003. The couple undertook a $ 10 million restoration of the property and works of art. The house and its treasures have been accessible for private visits since 2010. Ludovisi had previously refused requests for sale, hoping to pass the house on to his children and grandchildren. But her death in 2018 at the age of 77 sparked an ongoing inheritance dispute that led to the Villa Aurora auction on January 18, 2022. It’s unclear whether the Italian government, which has the right to first refusal on the sale, will step in and buy the property, according to The arts journal.