The Fight to Save Caravaggio’s Ceiling Mural

Caravaggio mural

Have you heard of a princess who’s been kicked out of her own home?  On April 20, 2023, Princess Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi was escorted out of Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, also known as Villa Ludovisi, in Rome. The villa is historical, having been built back in 1570, and the ceiling has a mural by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio known as Jupiter, Pluto, and Neptune. The mural is currently on the second floor of the villa and is the only ceiling mural Caravaggio has done in his lifetime. However, the Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi now has a royal family fighting over its ownership and Caravaggio’s masterpiece.

 

In 1597, Caravaggio painted Jupiter, Pluto, and Neptune during the Baroque era. Through oil painting, he has depicted the Roman gods, Jupiter, Pluto, and Neptune along with a white horse looking down at the viewer. Caravaggio tricks his viewers into seeing the illusion of three-dimensional space by painting the three gods in a “dramatic foreshortening.” In addition, he was known for using “live models” for his paintings, so he painted his own face for the three gods. Caravaggio painted the mural on the ceiling of the Villa Ludovisi, which was owned by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte at the time. Monte was interested in Caravaggio’s work and alchemy. Hence, the mural was a gift, but things changed over the next 426 years.

Writer Karen K. Ho reported for Art News that Princess Rita has been evicted from the villa due to an inheritance dispute between the princess and Prince Nicolo Boncampagni Ludovisi’s three sons. Princess Rita, who is an American from San Antonio, Texas, and originally named Rita Carpenter, was the third wife of Prince Nicolo. She married him in 2009 and remained married to him until his death in 2018. Since then, Princess Rita has lived in the villa until her eviction on April 20, 2023. In fact, she was watched by Prince Bante Boncampagni Ludovisi, one of Prince Nicolo’s sons, who along with his brothers “hired lawyers to gain control of the property so it could be sold.” Regardless of who owns the property, the villa itself is in jeopardy. Prince Bante had told reporters, “This house needs renovations. The pipelines of water need to be restored and the frescoes are in danger.”

Sarah Cascone, a writer for Art Net, followed up with Princess Rita’s story the next day on April 21, 2023. Prior to Princess Rita being evicted there were problems with her maintaining the renovations and going against the law. For instance, Cascone wrote how in January, Princess Rita had “violated a court order prohibiting her from giving tours of the villa, and had failed to properly maintain the 9,000-square-foot property.” The princess believed the paid tours were valuable and a necessity because they paid for the villa’s renovations. During her marriage, she and Prince Nicolo worked on the renovations together. So, when Prince Nicolo died, he left the villa for her in his will. Thus, allowing her to stay living there until her own death. However, if the villa were to be sold the money would be split between her and Prince Nicolo’s sons.

Princess Rita said, “What did I do to deserve this? It’s a mystery to me—why are they so intent on getting me out of here?”

Back in October 2021, the Villa Ludovisi went on the market for the first time selling for 471 million euros, which is $546 million. Since then, the villa has failed at six auctions, but on April 6, 2023, the price, fortunately, dropped to 108.5 million euros, the equivalent of $118 million. Hopefully dropping the price increases its chances of finding a buyer. The next auction is set for June 30, 2023. Apart from the market and the auctioning, Cascone mentions how “Princess Rita had hoped that a buyer might allow her to continue living at the villa even after the sale.”

 

The fight isn’t over yet between Princess Rita and Prince Nicolo’s sons. Yet is this a fight over owning the villa or a matter of saving the art? Regardless of the fight between who owns Casino di Villa Concompagni Ludovisi, the bottom line is the villa needs to be renovated. If it isn’t renovated soon the villa will collapse and Caravaiggo’s mural will vanish. And to think this is all due to a royal family arguing over who owns what.


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