Wow, Nobody Wants to Buy This $410 Million Roman Villa With the Only Ceiling Mural Caravaggio Ever Painted

The villa has now been put up for sale—and failed to find a buyer—twice.

Caravaggio, Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto. Collection of the Villa Aurora.
Caravaggio, Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto (ca. 1597). Collection of the Villa Aurora.

The sale of a Roman villa with the only ceiling mural Caravaggio ever painted has flopped at auction—even with a 20 percent discount.

Despite international press interest and clear art-historical clout, the mansion drew not one offer at an online auction on Thursday. It had an asking price of €376 million ($410 million).

The Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, was first unsuccessfully put up for sale by court order in January with a price tag of €471 million ($546 million).

With the hopes that a “lower” figure might entice buyers, the villa returned to market on Thursday with an opening bid of €282 million ($308 million). (Under Italian law, the buyer would also be required to pay $12.75 million in restoration costs.)

No such luck. The sale closed almost right after it began as “no offers have been received,” Fallco Aste, the company that handles the online auction of the villa, said in an email to Artnet News.

The historic property is the subject of an inheritance battle following the death of Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, whose ancestors acquired it from the original owner, Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, in 1621. (Julius Caesar once lived on the same plot of land.)

The villa, built in 1570, was a hunting retreat for the cardinal, who commissioned the Caravaggio mural in 1597. The painting, valued at $360 million, depicts the Roman gods Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto. Historian Alessandro Zuccari, who was hired to appraise the mural, described it as “an extraordinary work.”

At some point over the years, the mural was covered up. It was only rediscovered in the 1960s, when the property was undoing renovation.

Other treasures on the property include a mural of goddess Aurora by Italian Baroque master Guercino, a sculpture by Michelangelo, a spiral staircase designed by architect Carlo Maderno, and a telescope gifted by none other than Galileo.

The property has now became a pawn in the legal dispute between the Texas-born Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, the third wife of the late Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi, and her three stepchildren from the prince’s first marriage.

Rita has lived in the villa for the past 20 years, and before her husband’s death in 2018, the couple opened the property to the public.

The prince’s will specified that Rita be allowed to live on the property until her death, and if it was ever sold, for the proceeds to be split between her and his three sons. But his children have mounted a legal battle challenging his will and her right to stay.

A petition with more than 40,000 signatures is urging the government to step in and purchase the property to keep it in public hands.


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