If it goes for the asking price, one Roman villa house will be the most expensive home ever to sell in the world — and the amped-up price has everything to do with a Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio mural.
The Villa Aurora in Rome contains the only mural that Italy’s best-known baroque painter ever made. In the 16th century, a wealthy cardinal named Francesco Maria del Monte commissioned Caravaggio to create the mural for his 30,000-square-foot country retreat. Painted in 1597 or 1598, it stretches 10 feet long and 6 feet wide across the ceiling of the home’s entryway and shows off the gods Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto in Caravaggio’s signature chiaroscuro style.
“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,” Italian art professor Alessandro Zuccari, who oversaw the valuation of the mural, told the Guardian. “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.”
The listing was put on the market by the Italian government, which is selling it on behalf of current owners the Boncompagni Ludovisi family after a drawn-out dispute over inheritance dating back to when the previous owner and family patriarch died in 2018.
Their strategy — putting it up at auction for a starting bid of €471 million (or $547 million USD) — may be even more surprising.B ut the idea is to allow the home, which is protected by the Ministry of Culture, to also make bids and buy it, keeping it open to the public. (The government can make an offer once at least one other bid was made.)
The opening bid will happen on January 18 at at €471 million. A noble family, the del Montes commissioned multiple artists at the time to decorate the property — another room contains a fresco known as “Aurora” by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, another baroque painter more commonly known as Guercino.
At the time he made the mural, Carvaggio was a young artist in his 20s and had yet to make some of his most famous works like “David with the Head of Goliath” and “Doubting Thomas.”
The villa has been somewhat abandoned, with peeling paint and chipped walls, but the frescoes are in an excellent state as multiple owners have taken efforts to preserve them.
Another condition of the sale is that whoever buys the property spends €11 million, or around $12.8 million USD, restoring the home. If it sells for the asking price, Villa Aurora will beat what is currently the most expensive home sale in the world, a 51,000-square-foot Hong Kong property that sold for $361 million in 2017.