Imagine if instead of being painted on a canvas, the Mona Lisa was painted on the wall of your house. And then imagine if you wanted to sell the house. How much would you charge for a house that happens to contain a wall decoration that's considered a masterpiece? That's exactly what's going on right now with a 16th century villa in Rome called Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi.
In his prime, Caravaggio was the most important Italian painter in the world. Today, when his paintings hit the auction block the fetch $100+ million. And when he was just 22 years old, he painted the ceiling of a villa in Rome.
So how much do the owners of the house that has a ceiling decorated by Caravaggio want for their property which features a masterpiece?
Once upon a time, today's current Villa was part of a larger property called Villa Ludovisi, named after one Ludovico Ludovisi. Since then, most of the property was sold off to the Roman government, but the building that was originally intended as a hunting lodge for Ludovisi still remains.
Italian cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte oversaw the construction of the hunting lodge, and it was he who hired the famed artist to create a large mural entitled "Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto," depicting a mythological scene of the three Roman gods.
This privately owned portion of the villa is currently at the center of an inheritance battle following the death of the property's most recent owner, Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, who died in 2018. This family dispute is the reason that the villa is now being prepared for sale.
One of the heirs, Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, recently gave a tour of the property. She shows off and discusses the ceiling painting for a few minutes starting at the 8:30 mark (I queued it up):
The painting is believed to have had an allegorical value involving del Monte's interest in the subject of alchemy, but it's its market value that concerns us here. And the Caravaggio ceiling mural isn't the only artistic treasure including on the property, which also boasts a priceless central fresco by Italian Baroque master Guercino.
The Caravaggio ceiling painting is the main attraction of this collection of artistic treasures, and Sapienza University history professor Alessandro Zuccari tells The Guardian that he estimates it to be worth some $360 million all on its own.
Italian law reserves the right of first refusal on pieces of historical significance like this for the Italian government, but it isn't known whether they plan to purchase the Villa Aurora, which has reportedly been open for private tours since 2010.
Unclear if the family or a potential buyer has the option to remove the ceiling to sell or transport the masterpiece. If you were a Saudi or Russian billionaire, would you pay $500 million for a piece of art that literally lives on the ceiling of a building in Rome? Would you want to display it at your mansion in the Black Sea/palace outside of Riyadh?