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December 14, 2021

If Villa Aurora sells for $532 million—the price established by an Italian court—it would set the record for the most expensive home ever sold, topping the 2017 sale of a $361 million apartment complex in Hong Kong.

Villa Aurora, as it is widely known, sits near the highest point within Rome’s Aurelian Walls, near where some historians believe Julius Caesar hosted Cleopatra at one of his homes. The 32,000-square foot villa and surrounding garden are all that’s left of a once 86.9-acre estate owned by the Ludovisi family since 1621. In 1885, most of the property was redeveloped into smaller lots to create Via Veneto, one of the world’s most glamorous streets.

A statue of the Greek god Pan long attributed to Michelangelo greets visitors in the garden, and on the ceiling in the main reception hall, Guercino painted a fresco of the goddess Aurora from whom the villa takes its name. Caravaggio’s only ceiling mural, “Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto” watches over a foyer, painted while the artist was still in his early twenties, before he killed a man in a duel and fled Rome. One art history expert hired by the court to appraise the ceiling, Sapienza University’s Alessandro Zuccari, estimated that the mural alone is worth about $350 million of the house’s astronomical price.

After all, paintings by Caravaggio are extremely rare. There are about 90 known works attributed solely to the artist, and some have reached nine figures in private sales. When Caravaggio’s Judith and Holofernes was up for auction in 2019, for instance, it was estimated to be worth as much as $170 million, but two days before the sale, it was announced the painting had been sold for an undisclosed amount to a customer who put in an offer that “could not be ignored.” The New York Times reported the buyer was billionaire hedge fund manager J. Tomilson Hill.

Rita Jenrette scandalized Washington in the 1980s when, as the wife of a disgraced congressman, she posed for Playboy. After reinventing herself as a New York real estate broker and eventually marrying into Italian nobility, she’s now saying arrivederci to the historic villa that’s been in her late husband’s family for 400 years.

For years, Villa Aurora has been at the heart of a vicious inheritance struggle between the Texas-born Principessa and members of her late husband’s family that she says makes the drama on HBO’s Succession look like “child's play.” She has now resigned herself to auctioning the home on the orders of an Italian court ruling after years of legal battles since her husband’s death in 2018. And if the villa sells for the court’s price, it would set the record for the most expensive home ever sold, topping the 2017 sale of a $361 million Hong Kong apartment complex on the Peak. Though she calls losing the home “devastating,” Villa Aurora marks another colorful chapter in Princess Rita’s dolce vita.

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