Meet The Texas-Born Italian Princess Who’s Selling A $532 Million Roman Villa With A Caravaggio Ceiling

Her Serene Highness the Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi sits in a parlor of her palatial villa in central Rome, where Caravaggio painted his only known ceiling mural and Galileo gazed at the stars from the roof.

"I hope God brings an angel here that recognizes all that we've done, and honors Nicol, because my ancestors purchased the estate 400 years ago," said the 72 year old Principessa, reclining near 16th and 17th century portraits of his ancestors. I've done everything I can.

The Italian court established a villa price of $532 million.

Villa Aurora is located near the highest point within Rome's Aurelian Walls and is believed to be where Julius Caesar hosted Cleopatra. One of the world's most glamorous streets was created in 1885 when most of the property was redeveloped into smaller lots.

Villa Aurora has frescoes by Domenichino and Guercino, as well as a Caravaggio.

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The villa's main reception hall has a fresco of the goddess Aurora on the ceiling and a statue of the Greek god Pan in the garden. Caravaggio painted his only ceiling mural, "Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto", while he was still in his twenties, and he fled Rome after killing a man in a duel. The mural alone is worth about $350 million, according to an art history expert hired by the court to appraise the ceiling.

Caravaggio's paintings are very rare. Some of the works attributed to the artist have reached nine figures in private sales. Judith and Holofernes, a painting by Caravaggio, was expected to be worth as much as $170 million, but only two days before the sale, it was sold for an undisclosed amount to a customer. J. Tomilson Hill was reported to be the buyer by the New York Times.

Villa Aurora has been at the center 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 Succession look like a child's play. After years of legal battles, she resigned herself to auctioning the home on the orders of an Italian court. The most expensive home ever sold was a $361 million Hong Kong apartment complex on the Peak. Villa Aurora is a colorful chapter in Princess Rita's dolce vita.

The Principessa has spent $10 million restoring Villa Aurora.


She felt a connection to the Eternal City at a young age, even though she was far from the tallest hill in Rome. She was the daughter of a millionaire oilman and an heiress to a cattle fortune. She and her older sister went to Rome for the first time at 16. She went to the Trevi Fountain and made a wish that she could live in Rome and marry a Roman. Her wish came true but not immediately.

Rita Jenrette was the wife of a South Carolina congressman who was convicted of bribe and conspiracy in 1980 as part of the Abscam sting.

She posed for a picture with Hugh Hefner and the Playboy Bunny in 1981 and with her first husband, John Jenrette, during his 1980 bribery trial.

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She posed for Playboy in a nude photo and wrote an essay about having sex on the Capitol steps after a late House session. The Principessa wrote in Playboy that she had been found guilty of an equally serious offense: not fitting in, even before her husband was convicted. She wrote that her detractors thought she was too outspoken to be a politician's wife. She wrote that if you don't speak out openly and honestly, then what have you lived for?

The Principessa told the Washington Post in 2011 that she exaggerated the nature of that night on the Capitol portico, saying it was a romantic moment but not a salacious one. The Playboy photos caused a scandal in Washington, but she doesn't regret them. If that's the worst thing I've ever done, shoot me. Nicol was always proud of me.

The Principessa moved to Los Angeles to try and become an actress. She appeared on Fantasy Island in 1982, in movies like Zombie Island Massacre and A Girl's Guide to Chaos, and in Off-Broadway. She worked as a correspondent for A Current Affair from 1988 to 1990 and said it was one of her favorite jobs. She didn't have to get married again to live decent because she moved across the country again and became a high-rolling real estate broker in New York.

She helped broker $1 billion of real estate transactions between 1995 and 2001 with deals from the East Coast to Arizona. Forbes says she made at least $10 million. Sullivan Jenrette is a real estate company that she co-founded.

She helped broker Donald Trump's purchase of the General GM building in 1998. When he told her that he was a billionaire, she was taken aback. She says that no one has ever said to her, "I'm worth $3.5 billion." It took me back. It was a surprise. According to the Forbes 400, Trump was worth over $1 billion.

She met her second husband, His Serene Highness Prince Nicol Boncompagni, through mutual friends in 2002, while she was a real estate broker. She was told that he was interested in building a hotel at one of his family's properties outside of Rome. She was not impressed.

The villa's sky-high asking price was due to Caravaggio's ceiling mural, 'Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto'.

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She agreed to go to Rome for a few days to see the property, but she said she wanted to call herself a prince. She liked that the prince spoke English with a British accent, and she picked him up from the hotel. The two were married seven years after they began dating.

The couple moved into Villa Aurora after they began dating and after they had spent a lot of time restoring the property, which had fallen into disrepair and was written off as beyond salvation by historical circles. The Principessa spent at least $10 million on renovations.

She says that it became very important to her because they gave up everything. I didn't go shopping for Birkin bags and shoes or anything else.

Nicol convinced him to share the villa with the world even though he was a private person. For years, she walked students and other visitors through their villa, sharing stories about its rich history in her unmistakable Texas accent. The villa has a lot of archives, including letters from Marie Antoinette and Louis XIV.

The pair spent a lot of time in the Landscape Room looking at the murals of nature scenes by Pomarancio, Paul Bril, Giovanni Battista Viola, Domenichino and Guercino. The two lived happily together until Nicol died. She says of her time with her late husband that she couldn't have asked for a better life.
The Principessa is unsure if she will stay in Italy if the sale of Villa Aurora is completed next year. She says she might return to New York if she rents an apartment in Rome. She has leaned on Nello Balan for support during the inheritance dispute. She says they're each other's cheerleaders.

The court ordered that half of the proceeds be given to the Principessa and the other half to her late husband's three sons. The Italian government has the right to match the final auction price to buy the property. It is unclear if Italy's Ministry of Culture will do that, considering the likely nine-figure price tag. The Principessa hopes that the next owner of Villa Aurora will continue the research and preservation work she has done for the home and keep it open to the public.

She says that Villa Aurora still has many mysteries to uncover. The Roman ruins are underneath the home. She is convinced that the missing telescope is still on the property. When asked who she hopes will buy the villa, the media- savvy Principessa mentioned names like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

She says it will take a billionaire to do it. It's not just a millionaire who can bring this back to its former glory. I hope and pray that this billionaire sees the value of the history of this house.