Rome villa with world's only Caravaggio mural is for sale

Major news on the Italian property market as historic Rome home with ceiling painting by Caravaggio is put up for auction.

Italy's real estate and art worlds are all a flutter over the news that Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, is on the market for almost half a billion euro.

The sumptuous villa, hidden by high walls near Via Veneto, has been owned by the noble Ludovisi family since the 16th century.

The historic property is all that remains of Villa Ludovisi - a country retreat established in the 1620s by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte - which was sold off by the Ludovisi family during Rome's construction boom in the late 19th century.

The building, originally the Ludovisi hunting lodge, is home to several rooms frescoed by Guercino, not to mention the only known ceiling painting by Michelangelo Merisi, known to the world as Caravaggio.

The wall painting, sometimes referred to incorrectly as a fresco, dates to 1597 and was commissioned by Cardinal Del Monte, a diplomat and generous patron of the arts.

Painted in oils on plaster when the artist was in his late 20s, the mural measures 2.75 metres wide and features Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto in an allegorical scene reflecting the cardinal's fascination with alchemy.

Guercino frescoes in Villa Aurora

Jupiter, accompanied by an eagle, represents sulphur and air; Neptune, with a hippocamp, stands for mercury and water; and Pluto, with the three-headed dog Cerberus, represents salt and earth. Jupiter is depicted reaching out to move the celestial sphere in which the sun revolves around the earth.

These treasures by Caravaggio and Guercino, along with a selection of ancient statues, will contribute significantly to the €471 million base asking price when the Casino dell'Aurora is put up for auction on 18 January next year.

Whoever purchases the 2,800-sqm property, protected under Italian cultural heritage laws, would also be required to spend around €11 million on restoration costs, which have been deducted from the auction value, reports Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

The sale is reportedly the result of a protracted inheritance dispute following the death in 2018 of the property's owner Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi.

The big question now is will the Italian state step in to purchase this unique property or will it go to private owners who want to have a Caravaggio over their heads.