A Texas-born princess loaded her four barking bichon frize dogs into a taxi on Thursday after being evicted from a historic villa in Rome, home to the only known ceiling painted by Caravaggio, following a bitter inheritance dispute .
Princess Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi, née Rita Carpenter, exited the Casino dell’Aurora on the swanky Via Veneto hours after Carabinieri police arrived to enforce a court-ordered eviction order. Before she left, a locksmith changed the locks on the large green front door.
Her dramatic exit – one of the dogs briefly escaped while she was talking to journalists in the street – capped a remarkable years-long soap opera that revealed the dirty laundry of one of Rome’s aristocratic families.
The Boncompagni Ludovisi are perhaps best known for supporting Pope Gregory XIII. to have produced according to the Gregorian calendar. But lately they have attracted more attention with the inheritance dispute and the court-ordered auction of their famous villa in the heart of Rome.
“I feel like I’m in a surreal movie, like Sartre’s ‘No Exit,'” the princess said on the street, interrupted by a barking fluffy white dog in her arms and three others on her ankles.
The Casino dell’Aurora, also known as Villa Ludovisi, has been owned by the Ludovisi family since the early 17th century. Following the death of Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2018, the villa became the subject of an inheritance dispute between the children of his first marriage and his third wife, Princess Rita, who was born in San Antonio, Texas and whom he married in 2009.
She was previously married to former US Rep. John Jenrette Jr. of South Carolina.
The children have argued that the house, built in 1570, is theirs, that their grandfather intended them to inherit it, and that their late father abused them and mismanaged his fortune. They launched a multi-pronged legal campaign to gain control of the property so it could be sold.
The final chapter of the saga came in January after Roman judge Miriam Iappelli issued an eviction order, accusing the princess of violating an earlier order that banned her from giving tours of the property.
Boncompagni Ludovisi said the tours were necessary to raise money for the upkeep of the villa. In addition, the judge found that the princess had failed to keep the house in a “good state of preservation” after an outer wall collapsed.
One of the heirs, Prince Bante Boncompagni Ludovisi, was present at the villa on Thursday to watch “this woman”, as he refers to his father’s widow, leave the property.
“This house needs renovation. The water pipes need to be restored and the frescoes are in danger,” he told reporters. “This is a country: we have our police, we have our judges, and you must respect our country and our laws if you stay here.”
It’s not clear who will now take over the work on the home, which requires at least 11 million euros in renovations to bring it up to date.
The mansion was auctioned off in the court-ordered auction block last year as part of the inheritance dispute and was valued at a court-appointed €471 million ($533 million), in large part due to the Caravaggio. After the minimum bid of 353 million euros ($400 million) failed to find a buyer in the first auction, the price was gradually reduced in a series of successive auctions, with more planned until a buyer was found.
The Caravaggio ceiling graces a tiny room next to a spiral staircase on the second floor. It was commissioned in 1597 by a diplomat and art patron who asked the then young painter to decorate the ceiling of the small room used as an alchemy workshop. The 2.75 meter wide mural depicting Jupiter, Pluto and Neptune is unusual: it is not a fresco but oil paint on plaster and represents the only known ceiling painting painted by Caravaggio.
While the mansion’s fate is uncertain, so is the princess’s.
Boncompagni Ludovisi vowed the truth would eventually come out (and announced a book deal), insisting she had tended to the mansion during her two decades there and digitized the family archives with the help of Rutgers University.
“I don’t see any logic in that. I was a good manager of the mansion,” she said.
She didn’t say where she was going next, although she noted that the Episcopal Church in Rome had reached out for help.
“I love Italy and I’m so sorry that what was a labor of love for 20 years has come to such a brutal end,” she said. Her book about the mansion and its famous ceiling is expected to be published later this year.
“It’s dedicated to my husband, Nicolo,” she said, before speeding off with the dogs in a taxi into Roman traffic.