A sprawling villa in Rome containing the only ceiling mural ever painted by the Italian master Caravaggio is being put up for sale for almost €500m (£422m).
The 2.75-metre wide painting Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte in the 16th century to adorn the ceiling in what was his alchemy laboratory at Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora.
Villa Aurora, surrounded by high walls close to via Veneto in central Rome, is all that remains of a retreat established by the cardinal.
“Del Monte bought property there, which he restructured before commissioning Caravaggio to paint the mural in his lab, which was only a very small room,” said Alessandro Zuccari, a history professor at Rome’s Sapienza University who oversaw the valuation of the mural. “It’s an extraordinary work which was difficult to put a price on, seeing as it was the only mural ever done by Caravaggio and so we had nothing to compare it to.”
Zuccari valued the mural, painted by Caravaggio when he was in his 20s, at no less than €310m. The entire property will go on auction on 18 January with an opening bid of €471m.
The building also contains rooms frescoed by the baroque painter Guercino, who was commissioned by the Ludovisi family, a noble family with close ties to the papacy who bought the property from Del Monte.
The sale of Villa Aurora comes after a lengthy inheritance dispute after the death of its owner, Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, in 2018.
“The are other rooms decorated spectacularly but the most important works are by Caravaggio and Guercino,” said Zuccheri. “It’s a place that’s unique in the world.”
The property is filled with other antiques, although dozens of ancient statues are now hosted at the National Roman Museum after being bought by the Italian state.
Owing to the site being protected by the ministry of culture, once a bid has been agreed at auction, the state will have the chance to buy the property at the same price.
“The state will have the right to buy it, the problem will be whether it can pay such a high price,” said Zuccheri.
Whoever buys the property will have to spend another €11m in restoration costs.
Villa Aurora has been off-the-beaten track for most tourists. Until 2019 it was only possible to visit the villa and its gardens by pre-booking a private tour, held once a month.