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UPDATE - Auction for Rome’s unique Caravaggio villa fails

UPDATE - Auction for Rome’s unique Caravaggio villa fails
Despite rumors Microsoft founder Bill Gates was to be among bidders, 16th century property for now goes unsold


By Alvise Armellini

ROME (AA) - A grand villa in the heart of Rome boasting the world’s only Caravaggio mural went up for auction on Tuesday – but found no bidders ready to stump up almost €500 million ($569 million).

The Villa Aurora, or Casino dell’Aurora, went under the hammer in Rome to solve an inheritance row sparked by the death of its former owner, Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi, in 2018.

The starting price was €471,000, but bids could be accepted from as low as €353,250. Within minutes of the auction starting at 3 p.m. local time (1400GMT), it was declared closed with no winner.

The notary overseeing the sale, Camillo Verde, previously told Anadolu Agency that the auction would close immediately if no bids were present. Otherwise, bidding would have gone on for 24 hours.

A lawyer for the Boncompagni Ludovisi family, Beniamino Milioto, told Anadolu Agency that a new auction would take place on April 7, with the starting price and minimum bid reduced by 20%.

Italy’s public broadcaster RAI had hailed the sale as “the auction of the century,” and speculated that Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the Sultan of Brunei were among the interested buyers for the 16th century property.

The 2,800-square-meter villa’s star attraction, Caravaggio’s depiction of Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, adorns the ceiling of a small room on its first floor, commissioned by first owner Cardinal Francesco Del Monte to decorate his alchemy lab.

The property also features frescoes by renowned Baroque painter Guercino, a statue attributed to Michelangelo, ancient Roman sculptures, and an internal staircase by Carlo Maderno, the architect who designed the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.

- Scandalous, literary past

In recent years, Villa Aurora was partially restored by Prince Nicolo and his Texan-born wife, the former Rita Jenrette, an ex-actress, real estate broker, and Playboy covergirl also known for her previous marriage to scandal-plagued US Congressman John Jenrette.

Jenrette resigned in 1980 and was convicted after being caught taking bribes in an FBI sting operation known as Abscam. He and his ex-wife are also remembered in Washington for allegedly having sex on the steps of the US Capitol.

Speaking to NPR, Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi said the ideal buyer for Villa Aurora would have to be “a billionaire; a millionaire is not enough for this. It needs someone with deep pockets, (who) doesn't care if you have to spend ten thousand on a water leak or something."

If a buyer eventually emerges for the villa, there is a chance the sale would not go through, as the Italian state would have the right to match any winning offer and put it under public ownership, likely to turn it into a museum.

The country’s perennially cash-strapped culture ministry can hardly afford it, but an online petition that has garnered more than 38,000 signatories wants the government to use EU recovery funds for the purchase.

Villa Aurora, originally a hunting lodge, was part of a larger residence, Villa Ludovisi, which was knocked down in the late 19th century to build Via Veneto, the ritzy avenue that was the backdrop to Rome’s Dolce Vita 1960s nightlife.

Villa Ludovisi used to be Rome’s largest private estate, visited by literary lions such as Goethe, Stendhal, Nikolai Gogol, and Henry James. Before it was destroyed, it served as the winter residence of the official mistress of the first king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II.

source: News Feed
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