Day into night: the Nozze d’Oro (50th wedding anniversary) of Prince Rodolfo and Princess Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi, 31 May 1904 (Part I of III)

An illustrated essay in three parts by Carol Cofone (Rutgers’17)

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Paired portraits by Giorgio Szoldatics (1873-1955) of Prince Rodolfo and Princess Agnese commissioned for their 1904 Golden Wedding anniversary. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The members of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family have celebrated in Rome many important occasions over the centuries. One such event was Tuesday 31 May 1904, which marked the Nozze d’Oro (50th wedding anniversary) of Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1832-1911), the eighth Prince of Piombino, and his wife Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi (1836-1920). The couple had married in Rome on 31 May 1854.

The 50th anniversary fête came eight years after the resolution of the worst of the family’s financial difficulties which had started in the late 1880s and early 1890s. But even in 1904, the Boncompagni Ludovisi were still renting out their famed Casino dell’Aurora, to the new American Academy in Rome, which had occupied it since 1895.

Indeed, one of the American Academy’s early strategies was to purchase the Casino Aurora outright from the Boncompagni Ludovisi. Previously unpublished correspondence from Boston lawyer Samuel A.B. Abbott (1846-1931) to noted architect Charles Follen McKim (1847-1909) reveals schemes of early 1896 to get the Casino Aurora from Prince Rodolfo at a knockdown price, and betrays a general lack of respect for the family.

For their part, in 1904 Rodolfo and Agnese now had as their principal residence in Rome quarters at Via della Scrofa, 39 (now the location of the Assunta Domus hotel).

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The entrance to Via della Scrofa 39, the Rome home of Rodolfo and Agnese Boncompagni Ludovisi in 1904

In the words of their eldest son (Monsignor) Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1856-1935) in his memoir Ricordi di mia madre (1921):

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“The date of May 31, the anniversary date of their happy union, was very dear to my mother. She went over it in her memory always. They had celebrated their Silver [i.e., 25th] Anniversary at La Quiete [near Foligno, in Umbria] in 1879. But every year my mother wished to remember that day like the one that marked the beginning of her happy marriage, since by being devout, one can be happy, even in pain.”

As Ugo suggests, their Silver Wedding celebration at La Quiete, so distant from Rome where his parents were married, fell short, and so the Casino dell’Aurora (seen below in 1904) represented a better choice of venue for their Golden Wedding anniversary. However, there may have been more to it than that.

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The Villa Aurora in 1904, then rented to the new American Academy in Rome (AAR). The young George Siddons Mowbray (1897-1930), son of the AAR Director, can be seen at lower right. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

What Ugo does not mention is that a notable party was held at the Casino dell’Aurora in January of 1904 to which the family apparently was not invited. The new American Academy in Rome had opened an exhibition of paintings and sculpture by its Fellows, which was attended by Victor Emmanuel III and Elena, the King and Queen of Italy. The international press made much of the King and Queen’s visit to the exhibition, including the New York Times on 12 January 1904.

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To celebrate the opening, the American Academy held a dinner at the Casino dell’Aurora. Twenty-five notable members of the Academy’s administration and high Roman society attended. But no one in the Boncompagni Ludovisi family was invited, even though the family owned the palace.

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Above: Guest lists for 11 January 1904 American Academy in Rome exhibition reception and dinner at the Casino Aurora. Below: newspaper accounts of the royal visit to the Villa Aurora; menu for the 11 January post-exhibition celebration. From the scrapbooks of American Academy Director H. Siddons Mowbray. Credit: Archives of American Art

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Many years had passed since the Boncompagni Ludovisi retained all of Villa Ludovisi, and perhaps the American renters were forgetting who the Boncompagni Ludovisi family was. It may be that even Rodolfo and Agnese were beginning to forget. So on the occasion of their 50th anniversary, the family reminded them, and all of Roman society as well. They made arrangements with the Academy to come back to the Casino dell’Aurora on the 31st of May 1904 – for just one day.

To be continued in Part II and Part III

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Snapshots of the Villa Aurora under American occupancy, ca. 1904. From the scrapbooks of American Academy Director H. Siddons Mowbray; the child is his son, George S. Mowbray (1897-1930). Credit: Archives of American Art

 

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Request to American Academy Director H. Siddons Mowbray by Alessandro Rocchi, administrative agent of Prince Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi, to sign renewal of contract for rental of Casino Aurora: 3 May 1904. Credit: Archives of American Art

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