New from the 1860s: a privileged admission list for the Villa Ludovisi, from its Portineria


Filippo Cancani Montani served as archivist of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family at the time of the dissolution of the greater part of its Villa Ludovisi in 1885. In 1886 he managed to preserve this wooden frame, containing a “Nota” from the principal gate listing nobility that had unrestricted entrance to the property, i.e., the ability to enter the Villa grounds on any day they wanted.

As we shall see, this economically composed document—which hung within the portineria, and evidently was produced for internal staff use—provides a fascinating window into the social relations of the Boncompagni Ludovisi with other leading Roman noble families during the mid to late 19th century.


Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913) made this photo of the main gate of his family’s Villa before its dissolution in 1886. Note the two inscriptions above the small doors, VILLA LVDOVISIA (at left) and ANNO MDCCCIX (at right). Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The sign’s text was previously known: Giuseppe Felici in his masterly Villa Ludovisi in Roma (1952) had transcribed it, but with loose reformatting of the (important) order of names. Apparently there is no published image of the object itself.


For the photo used here, warm thanks is owed to Patrick Heinstein and Noëlle-Laetitia Perret (Swiss Institute Rome); collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Now, as Giuseppe Felici points out in his Villa Ludovisi (p. 286), Antonio (II) Boncompagni Ludovisi (1735-1805, and Prince of Piombino from 1777) had seen to the construction of a new monumental entrance gate for the Villa Ludovisi. Alas, it was completed only after his death, by his son and successor Prince Luigi Boncompagni Ludovisi (1767-1841), with design by Melchiorre Passalacqua and formal dedication in 1809. A privileged admission list for the gate certainly was in existence by 1838, for in that year a family inventory of the contents of the gate’s portineria refers to a “walnut frame with glass for the admission of diverse signori“.


Pictured above, at right, the original ceremonial gate of the Villa Ludovisi that saw replacement in the early 19th century. The etching here is by Israel Silvestre, published in 1646. Note what appears to be the famed colossal head of the Juno Ludovisi in foreground.

The frame that we have here (which still has its glass intact) is almost certainly the same one referenced in 1838. But the admission list itself is likely to date from the next generation. For one finds in the left column “D(onna) Caterina Chigi“, that is, Caterina Capranica (born 1816), who married Giovanni Chigi on 7 June 1857. She died on 7 March 1878, which provides a terminus ante quem for our list. And in the right column there is “(Principessa) Cristina Bonaparte“, that is, Cristina Ruspoli (1842-1907), who married Napoleone Carlo Bonaparte—great grandson of the Emperor—on 26 November 1859.

The inclusion of the “Duke and Duchess of Gallese” (nr. Viterbo), further implies a date post 1861. For in that year the widow of Duke Marco Aniceto d’Altemps (1824-1849), the Duchess Lucrezia Alessandra, married Giulio Hardouin (born 1823)—with the title of Gallese passing to the new husband’s family. So a date of ca. 1861 is the earliest this list can have been created, and ca. 1878 the latest.


The list is headed by Cardinals of the Catholic Church; then divided into four classes of noble titles and ranks: Principe and Principessa; Duca and Duchessa; Marchese and Marquesa; and Conte and Contessa. Identification is variously by surname (especially for heads of family) or feudatory.

Here’s a full transcription, with clarifying annotations in brackets, and links (where they exist) to the Treccani Enciclopedia Italiana in the first instance.

NOTA Dei Signori e Dame che hanno libero ingresso in qualunque giorno alla Villa Ludovisi

  E(minentissi)mi Cardinali e P.ssa Borghese e P.ssa Caetani
Aldobrandini   Teano [i.e., Caetani]
Sulmona [i.e., Borghese]   Cristina Bonaparte
Sarsina [i.e., Aldobrandini]   Falconieri
Rossano [i.e., Borghese] e Bomarzo [i.e., Borghese]
Barberini   Ceri [i.e., Torlonia]
Colonna   Salviati
Corsini   Gallese [i.e., Hardouin]
Chigi   Gravina [i.e., Orsini]
Campagnano [i.e., Chigi]   Fiano [i.e., Boncompagni Ludovisi Ottoboni]
D. Caterina Chigi   Grazioli
Doria   Massimo
Del Drago   Torlonia
Gabrielli   Rignano [i.e., Colonna]
Massimo   Lante
Odescalchi   Sforza Cesarini
Orsini e Patrizi
Rospigliosi   Antici [sc. Mattei]
Pallavicini   Capranica
Torlonia   Guiccioli
Altieri   Theodoli
Viano [i.e., Altieri]   Lavaggi
Ruspoli   C.te e C.ssa Santafiora [i.e., Sforza Cesarini]
Cervetri [i.e., Ruspoli]   Carpegna [sc., Falconieri]
Sciarra [i.e., Colonna]   Cerasi [sc. di Monterado]
Lancelloti   Catucci [sc. da Narni]
S. Faustino [i.e., Bourbon del Monte]   Malatesta
  C.te e C.ssa Pietromarchi [sc. di Velletri]  
  C.te e C.ssa Primoli [sc. di Foglia]  

A full and proper commentary would be extensive indeed. However, a few main points leap to the eye.

Even with 56 individual entries (excluding the Cardinals), the number of noble families comes out at about just 40 in total. That list corresponds in good measure—but by no means completely—to the roster of 39 “Capi delle famiglie principesche e ducali romane” that the Congregazione Araldica Capitolina formulated on 17 January 1854. One misses for instance the heads of the Bonelli, Braschi, Caffarelli, di Montholon, Santacroce, Spada and Strozzi families. (The Altemps too had been memorialized on 17 January 1854 as a “Famiglia Ducale Romana”, but as chance would have it, the main line was extinguished in that very year.)

However, well represented are the families of the Roman nobility that produced Popes before the mid-eighteenth century. Those listed are the Aldobrandini, Altieri, Barberini, Borghese, Caetani, Chigi, Colonna di Paliano, Colonna di Sciarra, Corsini, Doria Pamphili, Odescalchi, Orsini, Ottoboni, Rospigliosi—of course to which one adds the Boncompagni Ludovisi. It is striking that the Roman noble Papal families of the Braschi, Cappellari, Chiaramonti, Mastai-Ferretti and Pecci do not find mention. One thing these latter families have in common is that the accession dates of all their Papacies fall in the period 1775 through 1878.


The families that receive the most generous treatment in our admission list are the Borghese (privileges to four titled members of that family), Torlonia (three), and then Aldobrandini, Altieri, Caetani, Colonna, Falconieri, Massimo, Orsini, Ruspoli, and Sforza Cesarini (each with two). But here perhaps the most interesting inclusion is Principessa Cristina Bonaparte, married to the great-grandson of the man who had tried to destroy the Boncompagni Ludovisi’s sovereign principality of Piombino. (In a future post we shall explore how Luigi Boncompagni Ludovisi [1767-1841] attended the Congress of Vienna [1814-15] as reigning prince of Piombino to assert his claims against Napoleon’s depredations.)

As might be expected, the Boncompagni, Ludovisi, and Boncompagni Ludovisi had (or soon would have) close marriage ties with a number of noble families on the list—over a third (15 of the 40). As it happens, these related families appear almost exclusively in the left-hand column: Aldobrandini, Altieri, Barberini, Borghese, Bourbon del Monte, Chigi, Doria Pamphili, Massimo, Odescalchi, Orsini, Ottoboni, Pallavicini, Patrizi, Rospigliosi and Sforza Cesarini. It will be noticed how closely this list corresponds to the old Roman Papal families enumerated above, which in turn sheds light on historical marriage strategies among Rome’s highest aristocracy.


Plan (detail) of the Villa Ludovisi from T. Schreiber (1880). The arrow points to the site of the Villa’s main gate, which corresponds today to the “bend” in the Via Friuli, now completely within the grounds of the US Embassy in Rome.

Almost three-quarters of the families on this list (29 out of the 40) had shown Cardinals in their families by the mid-19th century. Indeed, every one of the families on the left-hand part of the list, with the exception of the Torlonia, had reached that status.

There is also significant overlap in the family names with the members of the aristocratic “Commissione” of women—which included Agnese Boncompagni Ludovisi née Borghese, then Duchess of Sora—that caused such a stir on 12 April 1871 in their provocative presentation of a signed tapestry to Pope Pius IX, who had now confined himself to the Vatican, on the 25th anniversary of his accession. That action was widely interpreted as a rejection of the results of 1870, namely the final establishment of the Kingdom of Italy and the Pope’s loss of temporal power.


Nothing was simple in the events that led to Italy’s final unification in 1870, not even for one of the foremost Papal families. The young Principe Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913, and brother-in-law of Agnese Borghese) fought with Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1867 in the Campagna dell’Agro Romano, and was a member of the Giunta Provvisoria di Governo formed on 3 October 1870, just two weeks after the capture of Rome. In 1886 he was appointed a Senator of the Kingdom of Italy. The document above commemorating Ignazio’s efforts is courtesy of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Astonishingly, if one includes the Boncompagni Ludovisi themselves, the families on this list held the Papacy for all but 40 of a continuous 168 years stretching from the later sixteenth through mid-eighteenth centuries: in each of the years 1572-1585, then 1592-1691, then 1724-1740. And then a succession of Roman noble families not specifically found in the Villa Ludovisi admission list held the Papacy from 1775-1823 and then 1829-1903.

However, it is important to emphasize that of Roman families, only three could boast of two or more Popes: the Caetani (Gelasius II and Boniface VIII, each with reigns before the Avignon schism of 1309), Orsini (with the pre-Avignon Popes Celestine III and Nicholas III, followed by Benedict XIII [1724-1730]), and the Boncompagni Ludovisi (Gregory XIII, who reigned 1572-1585, and Gregory XV, 1621-1623).


A unique rear view of the “new” Ingresso Monumentale of the Villa Ludovisi, with uniformed portiere outside the Portineria. Photo: Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1885), Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

There is obviously much more to be said. But if one has to close this discussion for now, it must be stressed that this list of Cardinals and Roman nobles simply outlines those who had access to the grounds of the Villa Ludovisi on any day they wanted in the mid-nineteenth century. As we have seen previously in this weblog, direct application to the head of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family could also bring access to the Villa, even to what we would call tourists. When the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne visited in March of 1858, he also brought his three children, aged 18, 11 and 6.


Francis Towne (1739/40-1816), Gateway of Villa Ludovisi, Rome. 1780. Watercolor, ink, pencil; from the British Museum, London. The drawing seems to show the approach to the principal gate of the Villa Ludovisi—the building on the right cannot be the main monumental gate—as one ascends the Via Friuli. Towne’s own note on the reverse of the drawing reads: “going into the Villa Ludovisi Dec 9 1780 Rome”

Special thanks to Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi advisory board member Anthony Majanlahti for some expert comments on an earlier draft of this feature.


  1. […] broad, the balsamic air, the repose which reigned there, made the Ludovisi Villa, into which it was not always easy to gain admittance, one of the places in Rome first named, when the enchantment of the Eternal City was talked […]

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