ROME (AP) — A Texas-born princess who lives in a Rome villa containing the only known ceiling painted by Caravaggio is facing a court-ordered eviction Thursday, in the latest chapter in an inheritance dispute with the heirs of one of Rome’s aristocratic families.
Princess Rita Jenrette Boncompagni Ludovisi, a widow formerly known as Rita Carpenter, was still holding out at the Casino dell’Aurora on Wednesday night, awaiting what she expected to be the arrival of Carabinieri police in the morning. With her are her Ukrainian housekeeper Olga, and the housekeeper’s daughter and two young grandchildren who fled Kyiv last year after Russia’s invasion.
In January, Rome Judge Miriam Iappelli instructed Carabinieri police at the Via Veneto station to evict her, accusing the princess of having failed, among other things, to maintain the home in a “good state of conservation” after an exterior wall crumbled. With the warning time now up, the decree calls for police to evict anyone still living there, take possession of the property, change the locks and “dispose of or destroy” any furniture or documents left behind.
The house, located off the swank Via Veneto, has been in the Ludovisi family since the early 1600s. After Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi died in 2018, the villa became the subject of an inheritance dispute between the children from his first marriage and his third wife, the San Antonio, Texas-born Princess Rita, whom he married in 2009.
The children have argued that the home, built in 1570, belongs to them, that their grandfather intended for them to inherit it and that their late father abused them and mismanaged his fortune. They have mounted a multi-pronged legal campaign to get control of the property so it can be sold.
One of the children, Bante Boncompagni Ludovisi, took to Twitter on Wednesday to praise Iappelli’s eviction order and assert the children’s right to the villa and its contents.
The widow Boncompagni Ludovisi says she and her husband worked diligently to restore the villa as best they could, adding that she has tried to negotiate with her late husband’s children. In a statement provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday, she called her imminent eviction “unexpected and unjust.”
“What a brutal ending to my beautiful life with my beloved Nicolo,” she wrote.
The eviction order marked the culmination of a bitter inheritance saga that simultaneously saw the villa put on the court-ordered auction block last year and assigned a court-appraised value of 471 million euros ($533 million). After the minimum bid of 353 million euros ($400 million) failed to get any takers in the first auction, the price was progressively lowered in a series of successive auctions, with more scheduled until a buyer is found.
The villa, also known as Villa Ludovisi, is famous for the Caravaggio that graces a tiny room off a spiral staircase on the second floor.
It was commissioned in 1597 by a diplomat and patron of the arts who asked the then-young painter to decorate the ceiling of the small room being used as an alchemy workshop. The 2.75-meter (9-foot) wide mural, which depicts Jupiter, Pluto and Neptune, is unusual: It’s not a fresco, but rather oil on plaster, and represents the only ceiling mural that Caravaggio is known to have painted.
The American princess previously was married to former U.S. Rep. John Jenrette Jr. of South Carolina.