The Villa Aurora, a jewel of architecture and art in the Italian capital, is up for sale for half a billion euros. Its strong point is not its grandeur or its luxury, but the fact that it houses the only known mural by the Italian Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio.
It is one of the most beautiful residences on Via Veneto, one of the most admirable streets in Rome. Built at the end of the 16th century as a hunting lodge and sold to the city of Rome in the 19th century, Villa Aurora is all that remains of the imposing ancestral residence. It is a huge building of 2800 square metres, with a garden, a roof terrace, paths, three garages and nine bathrooms. Its base selling price? 471 million euros, or $545.8 million, making it one of the most expensive in the world. The auction is scheduled to take place on 18 January 2022.
Its immensity alone is not enough to explain this pharaonic price. Villa Aurora has many other, more artistic assets. It is full of sculptures, statues, columns and ornaments, according to the list held by the Italian government. But what makes it truly exceptional is the unique ceiling fresco. Painted in 1597, it is the work of the famous Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio. It is the only known mural by the painter to date.
The fresco depicts the Roman gods Jupiter, Pluto and Neptune surrounding a translucent celestial sphere embossed with the signs of the zodiac, with the Sun and Earth in the background, Architectural Digest details. The 2.7-metre-high painting alone is said to be worth $360 million.
The Italian property is also home to other priceless works, including a masterpiece by Michelangelo’s contemporary, Guerchino, depicting Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, on her chariot. It is this work of art that gives the villa its name. A rosewood table donated by Pope Gregory XIII and a red velvet throne belonging to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who built the estate, are two other priceless items in the collection housed in the historic villa.
The reason this impressive villa is now being offered for auction is because of a long-running inheritance dispute between the heirs of the former owner, Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi, and his third wife, the American actress Rita Jenrette. Although the couple had carried out numerous renovations to the villa, the prince intended to pass on his ancestral home to his children and grandchildren. Family quarrels decided otherwise. It is interesting to note that the former owner of the villa is descended from a long line of Italian noblemen going back several centuries.
The actress and now princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, the wife of Prince Nicolo, was until recently one of the potential heirs to Villa Aurora. Although she was born and raised in Texas, she has spent the last 18 years in the villa. Recently, in an interview with Reuters, the princess said that Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, and an emir of Qatar had already expressed interest in buying the property. “I just pray, and I hope, that whoever buys it will love it as much as we do,” she said.
The auction of Villa Aurora is the long-awaited conclusion to Italy’s long wait. It is still unclear whether the Italian government, which has the right of first refusal on the sale, will buy Villa Aurora, the daily La Reppublica points out.
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