An online auction organized by the Rome tribunal began at 3 p.m. and closed a short time later without a winner. The starting bid had been set at 353 million euros ($400 million), and the villa just off the famous Via Veneto was assigned a court-appraised value of 471 million euros ($533 million).
With no winning bids in the first round, the villa will go up for auction two more times at lower prices, and the Italian Culture Ministry can try to match the highest bid at any stage. The next round is scheduled for April 7.
“It’s been emotional since I received the notice from the judge on Sept. 2. I’ve rarely slept,” Boncompagni Ludovisi told The Associated Press before the auction began. “It’s like going through the stages of death and dying. ... You’re angry at first, and then you can’t believe it, and then you finally go into a point of accepting it.”
The house, built in 1570, has been in the Ludovisi family since the early 1600s. After Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi died in 2018, the villa became the subject of an inheritance dispute between the children from his first marriage and his third wife, the San Antonio, Texas-born Princess Rita.
The villa, also known as Villa Ludovisi, was one of 42 lots up for court-ordered auction Tuesday but was by far the most prestigious and expensive, thanks to the Caravaggio that graces a tiny room off a spiral staircase on the second floor.
It was commissioned in 1597 by a diplomat and patron of the arts who asked the then-young painter to decorate the ceiling of the small room being used as an alchemy workshop. The 2.75-meter (9-foot) wide mural, which depicts Jupiter, Pluto and Neptune, is unusual: It’s not a fresco, but rather oil on plaster, and represents the only ceiling mural that Caravaggio is known to have made.
“It’s probably the first work of Caravaggio’s that we know of, so historically, it’s a really a milestone,” said Claudio Strinati, an art historian and Caravaggio expert. “It’s a beautiful piece about a mythological theme, which is rare in Caravaggio’s art because he mostly dealt with sacred themes.”aside">