Roman villa housing Caravaggio mural up for auction amid legal dispute

ROME (AFP) – A Roman villa housing the only mural by Caravaggio and at the centre of a legal battle between a former Playboy model and the sons of her late husband, an Italian prince, will go up for auction on Tuesday (Jan 18).

The sprawling property, valued at €471 million (S$724 million), is a Baroque jewel with gorgeous gardens and a valuable art collection that also includes frescoes by Guercino.

Art lovers are demanding the Italian state step in to buy the spectacular property, arguing that artistic treasures should be protected and available for public viewing.

But the government might not have enough to cough up for it – the auction is open only to those who can put up 10 per cent of the starting price of €353 million – and rumoured buyers include Mr Bill Gates and the Sultan of Brunei.

The auction was ordered by a Rome court following a dispute among the heirs of Prince Nicolo Ludovisi Boncompagni, the head of the family who died in 2018.

The dispute is between the prince’s third and final wife, Ms Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi, a 72-year-old American former real estate broker and actress who once posed for Playboy, and the children from his first marriage.

Auction of the century

The residence of the noble Ludovisi Boncompagni family for hundreds of years, the 2,800 sq m Casino dell’Aurora is located in central Rome between the Via Veneto and the Spanish Steps.

Its sale is being held behind closed doors and has been dubbed by Italian media as the “auction of the century” in its breathless reporting on the legal wrangling around it and who could buy it.

There are those who believe the cultural gem should be preserved for the nation.

Almost 35,000 people have called on the Italian government to exercise “its pre-emptive right” to buy the building and the Caravaggio, which alone is valued at €350 million, according to a petition on

“Sign this petition to prevent another piece of Italy, such a beautiful one, from being sold off,” it said.

However, the estimated price of the villa represents a quarter of the annual budget of the Culture Ministry.