architecture

$547 million villa with world's only Caravaggio ceiling mural goes on sale

Updated 27th October 2021
Italy, Lazio, Rome, Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi. Whole artwork view. Globe world divinity Jupiter air Pluto Earth Cerberus three heads dog Neptune water nude body trident pitchfork gray horse, photographic campaign 2009.
Credit: Mondadori Portfolio/Hulton Fine Art Collection/Getty Images
$547 million villa with world's only Caravaggio ceiling mural goes on sale
Written by Livia BorgheseSana Noor Haq, CNNRome, Italy
A stately villa in the heart of Rome, which houses the world's only ceiling mural by the Italian painter Caravaggio, will be auctioned at a starting price of 471 million euros ($547 million) in January, a court in Rome has confirmed.
While most of the infrastructure was demolished in the 19th century, Villa Aurora is the only remaining part of the larger Villa Ludovisi, a 16th-century house which was considered "one of the wonders of the world," according to art historian Claudio Strinati in a column published on the daily Repubblica on Friday.
Barely a stone's throw away from Via Veneto, the iconic street memorialized by "La Dolce Vita" director Federico Fellini, Villa Aurora is flanked by a garden and various garages, and covers a total of 2,800 square meters (just over half an acre), according to public sales documents published by the Justice Ministry.
The six-floor property houses a myriad of artworks including an oil wall painting attributed to Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, better known simply as Caravaggio, whose body of work became synonymous with the artist's visceral depictions of violence.
Portrait of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 17th century. Found in the collection of National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo.
Portrait of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 17th century. Found in the collection of National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. Credit: Heritage Images/Hulton Fine Art Collection/Getty Images
Spanning the ceiling of a small 2.75 square meter room (approximately 30 square feet), Caravaggio's Villa Aurora mural represents three gods -- Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto -- as they gather around a translucent globe.
It was commissioned by cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte in 1597, who would have used the room as an alchemical laboratory, according to the expertise commissioned by a tribunal, published by the ministry.
The painting has an estimated value of more than 310 million euros ($360 million), according to Alessandro Zuccari, a history of modern art professor at Sapienza University of Rome.
Zuccari, who was called by the tribunal to estimate the work of art inside the property, concluded in his evaluation ordered by the tribunal that Caravaggio's painting is "priceless, being the only mural by one of the greatest painters of the modern age."
The villa is also frescoed by the Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino, who worked in the villa between 1621 and 1623. Among Guercino's works are the fresco of the Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, which was painted for the nephew of Pope Gregory XV, Alessandro Ludovisi.
Aurora, 1621, by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino, fresco. Casino of the Villa Ludovisi, Rome.
Aurora, 1621, by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino, fresco. Casino of the Villa Ludovisi, Rome. Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images
Villa Aurora belongs to the Boncompagni Ludovisi family, who are descendants of Pope Gregory XV. However, no detail of the judicial reasons that underlie the auction sale have been disclosed.
But maintenance of the property will not be cheap. One of the conditions for whoever will buy the property will be to spend 11 million euros in restoration expenses.
As a protected art site, the state will have the right of first refusal over the villa.
Auction company Fallco Zucchetti is handling the sale.