The auction for the Villa of the Dawn in Rome, which contains the only known ceiling painted by Caravaggio, was declared void and will have to be repeated on April 7 at a price 20% lower than the 533 million usd starting price set in the beginning.
The palace, auctioned by order of a judge to settle a tax debt of its owners that pitted the heirs of one of Rome’s aristocratic families against their stepmother, a Texas-born princess: Rita Jenrett Boncompagni Ludovisi, formerly known as Rita Carpenter and that she is spending her last days in what has been her home for the last twenty years. The judge determined the minimum value of it at 400 million usd but the very high starting price trying to get a juicy slice of more, has not worked, and for the moment it has been closed due to lack of interest from investors.
The expert Alessandro Zuccari, historian at the University of La Sapienza, has calculated the building at 490 million usd, albeit reluctantly, stressing in his report that “currently there are no valuation parameters” and that it is “inestimable”.
It is a six-storey palace and garden, with an area of about 2,800 square meters, in the heart of Rome, historical residence of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family, cradle of cardinals and even two popes over the centuries.
The house, built in 1570, has belonged to the Ludovisi family since the early 17th century. Following the death of Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2018, it became the subject of an inheritance dispute between his sons from his first marriage and his third wife, San Antonio-born Princess Rita.
The villa, also known as Villa Ludovisi, is one of 42 lots being auctioned Tuesday by court order. But Villa Aurora is by far the most prestigious and expensive, largely thanks to the Caravaggio that adorns a small room at the top of a second-floor spiral staircase.
It was commissioned in 1597 by a diplomat and patron of the arts who asked the then young painter to decorate the ceiling of the small room used as an alchemy workshop. The 9-foot (2.75-meter) wide mural, depicting Jupiter, Pluto and Neptune, is unusual: it is not a fresco, but an oil on plaster, and represents the only known ceiling mural Caravaggio made.
The ad on the Rome court auction site highlights the Caravaggio among other attributes of the house, but notes that the villa will require an estimated $13.5 million in renovations to meet current building standards.
In addition, it has numerous pieces of art, paintings, sculptures or books, as well as the fresco that gives the town its name, the allegory of the Aurora, the work of Guercino, an exponent of Roman baroque, and other painters such as Dominichino, Paul Bril or Giambattista Viola.
In recent days, a campaign has been launched through Change.org for the Italian State to take over this palace due to its high historical and cultural value, for which the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, offered some 200 million dollars fifteen years ago, according to the heiress.
At the moment the Government has not alluded to this possibility, also because it could interfere with the auction, but sources from the Ministry of Culture explain that the starting price is equivalent to a fifth of the ministerial budget for one year.
The palace, today largely disused, cold, dark and damp, was in the past one of the power centers of Rome and its beauty was praised for its beauty by Goethe, Stendhal or D’Annunzio.