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Princess faces eviction from Rome villa with Caravaggio mural

Casino dell'Aurora fails to sell a fifth time.

An American-born princess faces eviction from a Rome villa with the world's only ceiling painting by Caravaggio after the historic property failed to sell at a court-ordered auction for the fifth time.

Princess Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi, 73, told Reuters on Friday that she was "stunned" after the courts ordered her to vacate Casino dell'Aurora within 60 days, saying she intended to appeal the ruling.

The eviction notice stems from two issues, reports Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the first of which was the collapse of a wall on the property, resulting in the closure of an adjacent street.

The second relates to unauthorised paying tours given by the princess who claimed the visits were to raise funds for maintenance of the property, also known as Villa Aurora.

The sale is the result of a bitter inheritance battle following the death in 2018 of Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, whose family has owned the site near Via Veneto for the last 400 years.

The dispute is between the prince's three sons from his first marriage, and his third wife, Princess Rita, who spent much of the last two decades renovating the 2,800-sqm property with her late husband.

The prince's sons contested their father's will, which the princess says entitles her to live in Villa Aurora for the rest of her life and, that if sold, the proceeds would be split between her and her stepsons.

After the two sides failed to reach an agreement, the courts ordered that the 11-bedroom villa be put up for auction.

When the villa was put back on the block on Thursday, via a website that deals with bankruptcy property, its base asking price was €141 million - a far cry from the original price tag of €471 million just one year ago.

However, once again, there were no bidders despite the reserve being slashed a fourth time. Over the past year the asking price was reduced progressively - down to €376 million in April, €301 million in June, and €241 million in October.

Each of the five auctions failed, despite lofty hopes that Microsoft founder Bill Gates or the Sultan of Brunei might be tempted to buy the property which is protected by Italian cultural heritage laws.

The courts also stipulated that whoever purchases the unique property must spend a further €11 million on restoration costs, with the Italian state given a 60-day window to exercise its right of first refusal after a sale agreement to a private buyer.

In addition to its Caravaggio oil-on-plaster mural of an allegorical scene featuring Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, the villa contains lavish frescoes by Guercino and a statue attributed to Michelangelo.

Caravaggio's ceiling mural at the Casino dell'Aurora.

A brief history of Casino dell'Aurora

Built in 1570, the villa has been owned since 1621 by the noble Ludovisi family whose descendants include Popes Gregory XIII – who introduced the Gregorian calendar – and Gregory XV.

The six-storey building, expanded in 1858, was used originally as the family's hunting lodge. The property was once part of Villa Ludovisi, a 30-hectare country retreat established by Cardinal Del Monte.

In the late 19th century the Ludovisi family sold the bulk of the estate during Rome's construction boom, leading to the creation of the upmarket “Ludovisi” district.

The villa sits in what was once part of the Horti Sallustiani, a grand Roman estate with landscaped gardens, on land originally owned by Julius Caesar.

Recent surveys commissioned by Princess Rita and her late husband suggest that the ground on which the villa is built is exceptionally rich in archaeological treasures from the Roman era.

For insights into the property's rich history, in English, see the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi.

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