US-born ‘princess’ evicted from Rome villa housing Caravaggio fresco | Italy

A “princess” who was evicted from a villa in Rome that contains the only ceiling fresco ever painted by Caravaggio said she was sorry to experience such “a brutal end to what has been a labour of love”.

The US-born Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi was escorted out of the 16th-century Villa Aurora by police on Thursday after receiving an eviction order amid a long-running inheritance dispute with the three sons of her late husband, Nicolò, who was the property’s last owner.

Clutching her dog, Boncompagni Ludovisi, 73, told reporters: “What did I do to deserve this? It’s a mystery to me – why are they so intent on getting me out of here?”

Her Ukrainian housekeeper, along with the housekeeper’s daughter and two children who fled Kyiv at the start of Russia’s invasion, had also left the property.

Boncompagni Ludovisi’s eviction marks a turning point in a saga that began as a fairytale love story in 2003 when she met Nicolò, the descendant of an Italian noble family who used the title of prince. The Italian monarchy was abolished in the late 1940s.

Caravaggio’s Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto fresco in Villa Aurora. Photograph: Victor Sokolowicz

The villa, which is hidden by high walls close to the plush Via Veneto in central Rome, had been mostly abandoned and off the radar to the public until 2010, when it opened after a restoration project inspired by Boncompagni Ludovisi, a former New York property broker.

Until Nicolò’s death in 2018, the villa hosted students of history and small private tour groups. Boncompagni Ludovisi put together a digital archive of 150,000 documents that shed even more light on the history contained within the home, including letters by Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.

In his will, Nicolò gave his wife the right to stay in the property for the rest of her life and, if sold, the proceeds were to be split between her and his sons. However, the sons disputed this, prompting a legal wrangle.

Both sides eventually agreed to put the home up for sale, but the property has failed to attract a single bidder at five auctions since January 2022, despite the price being slashed from €471m (£414m) to €145m.

In January, a judge in Rome ordered Boncompagni Ludovisi’s eviction from the property – where Caravaggio’s Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto fresco was painted on the ceiling of a small room tucked away on the first floor – after ruling that she had not been properly maintaining the building after the collapse of a wall led to the closure of an adjacent street. She was also accused of organising unauthorised tours.

Bante Boncompagni Ludovisi, the youngest of Nicolò’s three sons, waited outside the villa on Thursday morning to watch it “being liberated from that woman”.

“Princess is not her title!” he yelled.

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Ludovisi claimed his father was “out of his mind” when he wrote his will.

“Three years before, he had already donated the villa to my two brothers, so because of that the will does not really exist,” he told the Guardian. “Just because she’s American it doesn’t mean she can do what she wants – she has to respect our country and its laws.”

Boncompagni Ludovisi, who was previously married to the former US congressman John Jenrette, said she would be hosted by a friend in Civitavecchia before working out where to go next while waiting for the conclusion of the legal dispute.

She said a friend had arranged for her furniture to be removed from the villa, including artwork from New York and two chandeliers.

“It’s surreal – I haven’t slept for 72 hours straight,” Boncompagni Ludovisi said, adding that the saga had caused health problems. “What they’re doing is illegal – I have the right of use. Now it’s going through this court system which will take for ever – not in time to save me.”

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