Villa Aurora, the 16th century mansion in Rome that contains the only ceiling painting ever created by Caravaggio, failed to sell at auction today. With an estimated value of €471 million ($534 million) and despite the valuation of the Caravaggio painting alone at €310 million ($351 million), not a single bid was made. The auction had been scheduled to run for 24 hours, but without even one offer to open the festivities, the auction was immediately shut down and rescheduled for April 7th.
Named after a much larger ceiling painting in the house (a depiction of the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora) by another Old Master Guercino, the villa was built as a hunting lodge for Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, Caravaggio’s early patron. It is right off the Via Veneto today, one of the most prestigious addresses in Rome now, but when it was built on the former Gardens of Sallust bounded by the ancient Aurelian wall, it was basically the countryside. It has been in the Ludovisi family since the 1620s, and was the sole part of the once huge Ludovisi estate that the family kept after selling the rest of it off in the late 19th century.
Even the person selling it, the Texas-born widow of the Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, had to be forced to do so in an inheritance dispute with her late husband’s sons from his first marriage. The prince’s will granted his wife Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi 50% ownership of the villa and the right to live there until her death. The Ludovisi sons disagreed on both points and contested the will. After years of legal wrangling and liens, the court ordered in September 2020 that the villa be sold to resolve the issue.
The price was set by the court based on the valuation of an expert appraiser who pointed out that the heritage value of the villa is incalculable. More than 38,000 people signed a petition asking the Italian government to buy the property using EU funds, but even if they were inclined to spend half a billion on a villa, there’s no legal mechanism for that until an offer is made. Once an offer to purchase is lodged, Italy has the right of first refusal and can snipe the sale for the offering price.
The base price is expected to drop 20% to €376.8 million euros ($427 million) when the villa goes back under the hammer in April.