The Roman residence of Princes Ludovisi Boncompagni, which houses a work by Caravaggio, was auctioned off in Rome on Tuesday. Estimated at a total of 471 million euros, the event was attended by art-loving Italians, who did not want to see this cultural heritage ceded to wealthy individuals.
They will have partly won their case, since the sale, decided by a court in Rome to put an end to a war of succession between heirs, did not find a buyer. “No one participated in the auction” for the purchase of the famous Villa Ludovici, said Camillo Verde, the notary in charge of the sale, according to AFP.
But for the defenders of a purchase by the State of this residence, it is only a question of a temporary victory, since the next sale will take place on April 7, with an estimate revised downwards, to 376.8 million euros, or 20% less.
On the original price, 350 million euros returned to the only work of Caravaggio, the remainder concerning the residence in itself.
The work of Caravaggio, or Michelangelo Merisi of his real name, which dates from 1597, is a ceiling decoration commissioned at the time by Cardinal Del Monte. The particularity of this oil painting is its representation of Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, with the terrestrial globe and the signs of the zodiac in the center.
‘Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto’, the only known ceiling painting by Italian master Caravaggio in the Casino dell’Aurora inside the Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, in Rome, Italy, 18 January 2022.
— european pressphoto agency (@epaphotos) January 18, 2022
Indeed, as art historian and former museum curator Claudio Strinati points out, not only is it “one of Caravaggio’s first works, but it deals with a mythological subject, while painted almost exclusively religious works ”.
A petition to preserve this cultural heritage
A rarity that many Italians would still like to preserve. For this, they wanted this jewel to be bought by the Italian State and even launched a petition published on the change.org site. Named “SOS culture sold at a discount“, the process has already counted nearly 35,000 signatures.
The authors of it denounce an “auction intended for individuals, when the State should have exercised its right of pre-emption on the priceless painting of Caravaggio”. Still, according to the country’s legislation, the State can only exercise its right of pre-emption once after the effective acquisition of the property by an individual.
The Italian press, which cataloged this event as the “auction of the century”, had before this aborted sale leaked some names of potential buyers, such as Bill Gates or the Sultan of Brunei, although the list remains secret.