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No one bid on this Italian villa with the world's only known Caravaggio ceiling mural

The Villa Aurora in Rome housing the only mural by Caravaggio failed to find a bidder in an auction Tuesday.
Riccardo Antimiani
/
ANSA/AFP via Getty Images
The Villa Aurora in Rome housing the only mural by Caravaggio failed to find a bidder in an auction Tuesday.

Updated January 19, 2022 at 3:20 PM ET

The Villa Aurora in Rome is on the market and almost has it all: lush gardens dotted with statues of Roman deities, more than one colorful fresco and the only known ceiling mural painted by Baroque master Caravaggio. The only thing it doesn't have? A bidder.

The 30,000-square-foot, 16th-century villa made waves after it was listed on the market for a starting price of $534 million Tuesday, making it potentially the most expensive home in the world. But despite its extravagant masterpieces of Western art and location of historical significance, the villa neglected to get any offers.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the villa will soon be put up for auction again, this time at a lower price.

The property ended up at auction after a tumultuous inheritance battle between its current occupant, Texas-born Princess Rita Boncompagni-Ludovisi, and her stepsons. Built in 1570, the villa has been in the Boncompagni-Ludovisi family for more than 400 years and has never been open to the public.

A video on the court website shows some of the ornate artworks of the property and its holdings, set to a boppy musical composition.

The grounds are also home to a statue, attributed to Michelangelo, of the Greek god of nature Pan. In 2010, a box of letters was found at the villa that included the writings of Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI and a number of former popes.

T. Corey Brennan, a professor of classics at Rutgers, has studied the villa and believes there is more art to be discovered inside and on its extensive grounds (which are also home to the ruins of an ancient Roman villa that may have belonged to Caesar).

"I guarantee the next owner, there's going to be enormous discoveries," Brennan said.

"Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto," the only known ceiling painting by the Italian master Caravaggio, is shown inside the The Villa Aurora in Rome.
Riccardo Antimiani / ANSA/AFP via Getty Images
/
ANSA/AFP via Getty Images
"Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto," the only known ceiling painting by the Italian master Caravaggio, is shown inside the The Villa Aurora in Rome.

But with history from antiquity to the Renaissance comes with the need for restorations as well, possibly as much as €10 million worth, or $11.35 million.

"You have to have a billionaire; a millionaire is not enough for this. It needs someone with deep pockets, (who) doesn't care if you have to spend 10 thousand on a water leak or something," Princess Rita told NPR.

Alessandro Zuccari, a professor at Sapienza University in Rome who helped with the valuation of parts of the villa, wasn't surprised that no one bid. "I would have been amazed if a buyer had come forward. The price is too high. Let's see what happens in April, but I doubt anyone will come forward then — what would someone like Bill Gates do with Villa Aurora, especially with all the extra costs?" Zuccari said, according to the Guardian.

The villa will be put up for auction again on April 7, with its starting bid cut by up to 25%, reports Poggioli. By Italian law, the state has a right to step in after a final bid is accepted and buy the Villa Aurora. But experts say it isn't likely the Italian government will purchase the estate, historic for its art — and price tag.


This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.