ROMA.- She does not want to be called “princess”, but simply, Rita. Her name is Rita Jenrette and she is a Texan who has lived in a dream place for 18 years: the Casino dell’Aurora, which hosts the only mural by Caravaggio and other works of art, in a building that rises a few meters from the legendary Via Veneto, in the heart of Roma. It is a house that was formerly part of the enormous Villa Ludovisi, demolished in the 19th century.
But the fairy tale Princess Rita, third wife and since 2018, widow, of Prince Nicolò, last descendant of the historic Boncompagni-Ludovisi family (to which popes Gregory XIII and Gregory XV belonged), is about to end.
Amid enormous national and international media expectations, next Tuesday the Casino dell’Aurora, a 2,800-square-meter jewel-building that belonged to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi in the 17th century, will be put up for auction with a gigantic base price: €471 million.
This was decided by a court in Rome after this fascinating property was left at the center of a long and unresolved legal dispute between the Texan and brave princess Rita and the children that Prince Nicolò had from his first marriage: Bante Maria, Ignazio Maria y Francesco Maria.
The fights began in 2018, when the prince died, who made it clear in his will that his last wife, Rita, who is now 72 years old and has a fairly eclectic past – she was a journalist, actress and even a PlayBoy photo model-, he was going to be able to continue living there, but that the property also belonged to his children.
As the heirs never reached an agreement, the court ordered the auction of the villa, whose gardens were designed by the same gardener of Louis XIV who designed those of Versailles, which takes its name from a wonderful fresco that can be seen there made by the baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called the “Guercino”. This represents the Carriage of the Dawn drawn by two Tobiano horses made at the beginning of the 17th century on the ceiling of one of the halls of a place, witness of a glorious past.
“Think, right down here Ludovico Ludovisi and Bernini were playing cards,” Princess Rita recently told a journalist from The Republic that he was able to visit the disputed property, also decorated by the leading landscape painters of the time, Domenichino, Paul Bril and Giambattista Viola. “This room represented the test field, the winner would have decorated the rest of the house and the winner, we already know, was the Guercino”, explained the princess when showing the so-called “Landscape Hall”.
Although the great treasure of his house -the most expensive in the world, given the price attributed to it by the court-, is located on the first floor of the building, in a small room called “Stanza della distilleria”, which is reached climbing a spiral staircase. It was there that, in 1597, Michelangelo Merisi made his only mural painting (not fresco), commissioned by the powerful Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, an art lover who hosted and protected Caravaggio and who had his country house right there, in the Casino dell’Aurora, then called “del belvedere” because, being on one of the highest points in Rome, it had a spectacular view.
Like the cardinal and patron, he was also passionate about alchemy, he had the artist decorate what was his laboratory with the figures of Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto seen from below around a celestial sphere with zodiacal signs. The three gods boast unusual proportions and perspectives that have caused historians and critics to discuss for centuries and are believed to be self-portraits of the “cursed artist”, as the artist is often nicknamed. Caravaggio.
This unique mural painted by him -which is not marketable not only because it is not a painting, but also for legal reasons- is listed on €350 million, according to an article in ArtTribune, who highlighted, on the other hand, that since it is under the tutelage of the Ministry of Culture, the building that will be auctioned next week It absolutely cannot be modified or refurbished, nor can it be converted into a luxury hotel.
When there are only a few days left for the “auction of the century”, which will be by teleconference, will last 24 hours and whose success is unknown, a petition in Change.org called on the Italian State, which can exercise a right of priority, to buy the Casino da Aurora, so that it becomes a public site. “Let’s use European funds to safeguard what is ours,” can be read in the petition, which demanded that another piece of Italy not be “undersold” to some foreign billionaire.
But the Texan princess, who told The Republic that at the age of 16 he traveled to Rome for the first time and threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain to return and that he achieved it by going to live in the Casino dell’Aurora, “his home”, was skeptical. “I would like the State to go out and buy it, but I don’t think it can be possible because I don’t know if they have the money. That’s the problem. And I’m not the only heiress,” Rita Jenrette told The Guardian.
What will happen? While there are proposals ranging from converting the Casino dell’Aurora into a museum or a cultural foundation, there are those who think that the auction could be aA golden occasion for new patrons eager to disembark in Italy.
“Actually, the arrival of a rich man in place of the historical owners might not be bad news,” commented Massimiliano Tonelli in an article in ArtTribune. Tonelli recalled that the building needs a major restoration, something that involves even more money and that, finally, under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, the patron could fix everything and decide to turn the object of the Ludovisi-Boncompagni family’s discord into a foundation. of art open to the public, a study center or a space for exhibitions, accessible to all.