Texan princess evicted from Rome villa with Caravaggio ceiling

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A Texan princess has been forcibly evicted from her historic villa in Rome following a court ruling that states that all objects left behind—including a trove of Baroque-era paintings and classical sculptures—should be removed and destroyed.

The 16th-century Villa Ludovisi, which is famously adorned with a rare ceiling painting by Caravaggio and frescoes by Guercino, has been placed at the heart of a bitter legal battle between princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, the second wife of the late prince Nicolò, and the prince’s four children from the prince’s first wife.

Attempting to resolve the dispute, Italian courts first attempted to auction the property in January 2022 with a starting price of €471m but found no bidders. In January of this year, a Rome judge ordered the princess to liberate the house within 60 days, specifying that any remaining contents would be “disposed of or destroyed”. Carabinieri arrived at the villa on Thursday and forced the princess to vacate the property.

Carvaggio, Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto (around 1597), is featured on the ceiling of the Ludovisi Casino

The ruling could imperil dozens of artworks and hundreds-of-thousands of documents conserved within the property, Brennan Corey, a Rutgers University professor of classics who has led a project for the digitisation of the villa’s heritage, tells The Art Newspaper. “The villa is absolutely stuffed full of precious objects,” Corey says. “Rita did take some of her personal effects but left everything else.”

One room in the villa contains oil on canvases attributed to Scipione Pulzone (1540-1598), Domenichino (1581-1641) and Ottavio Leoni (1578-1630), in addition to around 25 other oil paintings, Brennan says. Half a dozen fine reliefs dating back to Julio-Claudian era and almost a dozen portrait busts are also displayed near the entrance, he adds. Twinned statues of Dacian prisoners that once decorated the Forum of Trajan now stand in the villa’s garden.

The villa also contains an archive comprising 150,000 pages dating to the 15th century. Corey’s team has uploaded images of most material dating from before 1955 to a digital archive but more recent documentation, including plans of the property, has yet to be digitised, the professor says.

The Ludovisi Casino, also known as Villa Aurora, was valued at €471m but failed to sell at auction for that price or after it was sharply discounted to €377m

Bante Boncompagni Ludovisi, one of the late prince Nicolò’s children, has reasserted his ownership claims of the property in numerous media comments. “The Villa Ludovisi first needs to be closed and then renovated,” Bante Boncompagni Ludovisi reportedly told newspaper Il Gazzettino on Thursday. “It therefore needs to be cleared out.”

How the eviction will ultimately influence the ongoing ownership battle is unclear. “What is the plan for the place?” Correy asked. “What is the vision for the co-heirs? Many questions need to be answered.”

Judge Miriam Iappelli accused the princess in the January eviction notice of violating a previous order forbidding her from conducting guided tours of the property. The judge also found that the princess had failed to properly maintain the property after an exterior wall crumbled.

Princess Rita, who lived in the villa for two decades, and her husband completed an €11m restoration of the property in 2010. The restoration led to the discovery of the documents and ultimate creation of the digital archive. The princess told Associated Press on Thursday that she had cared for the villa.

A lawyer for princess Ludovisi, who asked not to be named, confirmed that his team had filed an appeal against the eviction through the national courts. The princess’s lawyers may launch a further appeal via the European Court of Human Rights, he added.

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