A Roman villa bearing a priceless, one-of-a-kind Caravaggio ceiling painting. A bitter dispute between a Texas-born princess and the Italian son of her deceased husband. And now, a public eviction on the streets of Rome, complete with reporters and a quartet of bichon frise dogs.
How else could the story of the Casino dell’Aurora have ended?
Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, born Rita Carpenter and formerly Rita Jenrette, was escorted out of her home of 20 years last Thursday by Carabinieri police. The move followed a January eviction order by an Italian judge, who cited her failure to maintain a “good state of conservation” of the 600-year-old house.
“I love Italy and I’m so sorry to have such a brutal ending to what has been a labor of love for 20 years,” Boncompagni Ludovisi tells Nicole Winfield and Francesco Stati of the Associated Press.
The house, situated just off Rome’s Via Veneto, has been in the influential family since its construction, though Italian royalty was officially abolished in 1946. The Boncompagni Ludovisi clan includes Pope Gregory XIII, who established the Gregorian calendar during his papacy. Rita Jenrette married Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2009.
The house is a monument to the family’s grandeur, teeming with valuable art and artifacts. Over years, with the help of a team from Rutgers University, the princess has digitized 150,000 documents from the family archives, including letters from popes and French queen Marie Antoinette.
The crown jewel is the Caravaggio piece, the only known ceiling painting created by the Renaissance artist who influenced the likes of Bernini and Rembrandt. It depicts the Roman gods Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto.
But for all its glamour, the house has fallen into disrepair in recent decades. Jason Horowitz of the New York Times reported in 2022 on the dilapidated condition of the house, describing chandeliers with just one working bulb and an electric space heater tucked beside a radiator that had not emitted heat for “a while,” according to Boncompagni Ludovisi.
The house’s condition is the point of contention in the vicious battle taking place between the princess and a son from her husband’s first marriage, Prince Bante Boncompagni Ludovisi. She told the Times that she and her late husband made financial sacrifices to keep the aging house intact, forgoing vacations and gifts. The couple offered guided tours as a way to keep money coming in, and in his will, her late husband left the house to her.
“What they’re doing is illegal – I have the right of use. Now it’s going through this court system which will take forever,” she tells Angela Giuffrida of the Guardian.
Prince Bante tells a very different version of the story, claiming that his stepmother manipulated his late father after he had promised the estate to Bante and his brothers. He claims that the couple neglected the house for years, letting it fall dangerously derelict, and he agitated for a judge to ban the practice of giving tours on the property.
He sees the eviction as justice finally served.
“Just because she’s American, it doesn’t mean she can do what she wants,” he tells the Guardian. “You need to respect our country and our laws.”
Perhaps the story is not truly over yet. For now, Princess Rita will stay with a friend in the coastal city of Civitavecchia as she decides where to go next to begin her legal battle, the Guardian reports. It is unclear what exactly will happen to the house. Since January 2022, court-ordered auctions have tried to find a buyer for the property, with the first asking price at about $400 million. Successive efforts lowered the price, but even most recently at about $160 million, not a single person made a bid.