How a US princess was evicted from villa in Italy

Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi poses for a photograph outside Villa Aurora, a building that boasts Caravaggio's only ceiling mural
Princess Rita Jenrette

A US-born princess has been evicted from a villa in Rome housing the only ceiling mural by the artist Caravaggio.

Princess Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi called her eviction from Villa Aurora a “travesty”.

The property has been at the centre of an inheritance dispute between Princess Rita and the sons of her ex-husband, who died in 2018. As part of the row, it was previously put up for auction for €471m but attracted no bids.

In a video posted to social media, Princess Rita said she was being “brutally evicted from a home which I have lovingly taken care of for the past 20 years,” adding that the move was “illegal” and “unnecessary”.

“Someone said it’s because I’m a woman and I’m American – I don’t know,” she said, before adding that it was “all about money, obviously”.

The eviction notice was issued in January by a Rome court, which said Princess Rita had failed to maintain the building following the collapse of an outside wall. It also said she had violated a previous order forbidding her from giving paid tours of the mansion. She told Reuters news agency in January that the tours were organised to raise money for maintenance.

Caravaggio's mural at Villa Aurora
Caravaggio’s mural depicts Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto

The legal battle began after the death in 2018 of Prince Nicolo Ludovisi Boncompagni, a descendant of Pope Gregory XIII, who was head of the family which has owned Villa Aurora for generations. Princess Rita’s dispute is with Prince Nicolo’s three sons from his first marriage.

She has argued that her late husband’s will gives her the right to live in Villa Aurora for the rest of her life, and that if sold, the proceeds would be split between her and her stepsons. However, an agreement could not be reached between the parties and a court ruled that an auction should be held.

The princess says she would like the villa to be owned by the state.

The highlight of the six-storey villa’s many treasures is the painting by the 16th and 17th Century artist Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio. The oil painting depicts the gods Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, with the world at its centre and marked by signs of the zodiac. The artist is said to have painted the gods to look like himself.

It is the world’s only surviving Caravaggio mural, itself estimated to have a value of €310m. It was painted in 1597 after the villa’s first owner commissioned it for his alchemy room.

Remarkably, the painting was only discovered in the late 1960s, before which it had been covered up.

However, Villa Aurora got its name from another of the property’s artworks, a fresco painted by the Italian Baroque artist Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino. The painting depicts the goddess Aurora, or Dawn, on her chariot.

Art-lovers are demanding that the Italian government buys the villa so that its many treasures can be made available for public viewing.

Princess Rita, born as Rita Carpenter in Texas, worked as an actor and journalist in the United States, before moving into the property business. But after marrying Prince Nicolo and moving to Italy, she dedicated her life to the restoration of Villa Aurora, which was in a state of disrepair when she first saw it in 2003, she says.


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