ROME.- Some had speculated on the interest of billionaires such as Bill Gates, the Sultan of Brunei or other Arab emirs full of petrodollars. But in the end, in the midst of immense media expectation, the so-called “auction of the century” concluded today “deserted”.
Although it should have lasted 24 hours, the virtual auction of the Casino dell’Aurora, magnificent villa in the heart of Rome that houses the only mural painted by Caravaggio and others masterpieces from the 16th century, started and ended with no buyers. And in lightning time, since it began at 3:00 p.m. and half an hour later, it had already closed, as could be seen on the website of the Italian Ministry of Justice, which deals with auctioning off properties that have fallen into judicial disgrace.
As many experts had advocated, the monstrous base price of 471 million euros -and a minimum offer of 350 million- to win a historic and surely unique building, ended up scaring away any billionaire or patron. But also the fact that, due to legal ties with the Ministry of Cultural Assets, no private buyer, no matter how much money they had, was going to be able to transform this fascinating place, which was always privately owned, into a luxury hotel or something similar. inaccessible to the public. The new auction, downward, will be on April 7.
The Casino dell’Aurora, owned by the historic and noble family Boncompagni Ludovisi and the only building that remained standing in the town of the same name, was put up for auction a few months ago, when the problem was not resolved. legal dispute over the inheritance that was created between the Texan princess Rita Jenrette, third wife and widow of the prince Nicoló Boncompagni Ludovisi and the three children from his first marriage, Bante Maria, Ignazio Maria and Francesco Maria.
The legal 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, was going to be able to continue living there -in fact, he still lives in the splendid place-, but what the property also belonged to his children. As the heirs never reached an agreement, a court in Rome 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 by baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called the “Guercino”. This represents the Chariot 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. It is not the only Guercino fresco there, where other highly prized landscape painters of the same period, such as Domenichino, also left their mark.
Although the great treasure of the Casino dell’Aurora and the reason for the stratospheric price of the deserted auction, it is the mural (not fresco) that Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio painted on the ceiling of a small room on the second floor in 1597. Commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, an art lover who housed and protected the baroque artist, who had his country home right there, in the Casino dell’Aurora, Caravaggio decorated the ceiling of what was his alchemy laboratory ( his hobby) with the figures of Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto seen from below and around a celestial sphere with zodiacal signs.
The three gods boast unusual proportions and perspectives that have engaged historians and critics for centuries and are believed to be self-portraits by Caravaggio. Its about only mural painted by him, which of course is not marketable not only because it is not a painting (it is on a wall) and because of the aforementioned legal issues. just this “masterpiece”, in effect, it was priced at 350 million euros, something that levitated the base price of the building, which, stripped, would be worth around 35 or 40 million euros, according to experts.
What will happen in the second auction round that will take place on April 7 with a price reduced by 20 percent? The hypothesis that the Italian State, which always had a right of priority, will buy it at a lower price and become a museum or a cultural foundation, is more likely. In recent weeks, a petition to that effect had been launched by Change.org, which had called on the Italian authorities to use the extraordinary aid fund granted by the European Union to resurface from the economic disaster caused by the pandemic.
The Italian art critic and former Minister of Culture, Vittorio Sgarbi, who had predicted that the auction would be deserted, calculated that when the price dropped to between 100 and 150 million euros, the state may intervene. “But if a private person also manages to win the Casino at that figure, the State still has a right of priority by which in two months it can evaluate whether the property is worth buying at that price,” he explained, in statements to the fanpage site. “If, on the other hand, despite this, it remains in private hands, there will be a series of legal bonds by which the owners will not be able to do anything other than restore the building, inhabit it and open it to the public”, he added.
“We hope that the new owners have more money and management capacity than the prince’s heirs, who were forced to sell due to the growing debts that they could not pay off,” he continued, finally sponsoring that it be the State that finally stays. with that jewel, something that would ensure that the fabulous building becomes public and accessible. “At that point, after a restoration, it could open to the public with a single ticket combined with the Galleria Borghese,” concluded Sgarbi, who suggested that option to the current Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini.
But we will have to wait to know the end of this story. Meanwhile, Princess Rita, who has lived in this fabulous place for 18 years, considered “the most expensive house in the world”, will be able to continue doing so and enjoying the only mural ever made by the “accursed artist”, Caravaggio.