Roman villa with world’s only Caravaggio ceiling mural could leave family’s possession for first time since 1600s

A villa in Rome featuring the only known ceiling mural by Italian painter Caravaggio is at the centre of an inheritance dispute which could see a family lose possession of the property for the first time in hundreds of years.

The Casino dell’Aurora, also known as Villa Ludovisi, was built in 1570 and has been in the Ludovisi family since the early 1600s.

After Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi died in 2018, the villa became the subject of an inheritance battle between the children from his first marriage and his third wife, Texas-born Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi.

A recent ruling by a judge means the villa is scheduled to go up for auction in January with its value estimated at €471m (£400m) and a starting bid set at €353m (£300m).

The listing on the Rome tribunal’s auction site highlights its many attributes, though it notes that €11m (£9.5m) in renovations will be necessary to make it comply with current standards.

The Caravaggio was commissioned in 1597 by a diplomat and patron of the arts who asked the young painter to decorate the ceiling of a small room he used as an alchemy workshop.

Described as a “monumental property” on six levels, the listing says it is “among the most prestigious architectural and landscape beauties of pre-unification Rome”.

It has three garages, the Caravaggio, two roof terraces and a “splendid garden with tall trees, pedestrian paths, stairs and rest areas”.

The American princess, who was formerly married to former US congressman John Jenrette Jr, married Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2009.

At that time, the villa had fallen into disrepair and her new husband only used it as an office.

She said: “I started really trying to restore it as much as I could, within means.

“Really, you need to be a billionaire, not a millionaire. You need to be a billionaire if you have a house like this, a historic home, because you want to do everything right. You don’t want to get anything wrong.

“And now, knowing I’ll be leaving I guess when that auction happens, I treasure every moment. I treasure every moment, every memory.”

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