A Roman villa with the only known ceiling mural by Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is set to be auctioned with an estimate of €471 million (US$545.8 million) early next year.
The “monumental” Villa Aurora or Casino Dell’Aurora, the last existing building of a 16th-century country retreat, is more than 30,000 square feet. It’s located “between via Vittorio Veneto , Porta Pinciana and Villa Borghese , in one of the most elegant areas of the capital,” according to the listing with the Italian government, which is handling the sale on Jan. 18, 2022 .
If the villa sells for anywhere close to its asking price, it would be one of the most expensive publicly recorded real estate sales ever. The priciest sale is currently a 51,000-square-foot Hong Kong residence that sold for the equivalent of US$361 million in 2017, according to Christie’s International Real Estate, which has tracked sales of homes sold for $100 million or more since 2006.
Villa Aurora was the ancestral home of the late Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi , who died there in 2018 at the age of 77. He and his wife—Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi , formerly known as Rita Jenrette , who was born in Texas and married the prince in 2009—undertook a US$10 million restoration of the property after they were married, largely to restore the art, according to a 2010 New York Times article .
The Caravaggio mural, which depicts the gods Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, was painted in about 1597 or 1598. In the oil-on-plaster painting, about 10 feet long and 6 feet wide, Jupiter rides an eagle, while Neptune is mounted on a seahorse. A naked Pluto and a celestial sphere complete the painting, according to “Caravaggio: A Life Sacred And Profane,” a 2011 book by Andrew Graham-Dixon .
The mural had been painted over during a past renovation of the home, and was rediscovered in 1968, The New York Times reported. Peeling paint revealed a face on the ceiling that looked much like the artist. When it was uncovered, they found not only the mural, but also discovered Caravaggio had used himself as a model for the faces of the three gods.
There are nine ceilings painted by leading 16th-century artists, including one by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri , known mononymously as Guercino , whose fresco “Aurora” lends the villa its name. It shows the Roman goddess, who in mythology heralds the sun each morning, throwing flowers from a chariot as day breaks.
“To have a ceiling by Guercino and the only ceiling by Caravaggio makes it the most special residence of this kind in Italy,” Count Stefano Aluffi-Pentini , whose company, A Private View of Italy, organizes exclusive art tours in Rome, told The New York Times.
The artwork at the home, which also includes statues dating to 500 B.C., had a “conservative” estimated value of €670 million in 2010, the article said.
Located in central Rome, the property was once part of an 89-acre estate where writers and artists were sure to spot on their Grand Tour, a trip through Europe commonly made by upper-class Europeans. Stendhal and Goethe visited the property, which was broken up in the late 19th century.
The listing did not indicate the number of rooms or outline other amenities.
Italian officials were not immediately available to comment on the sale.