Long presumed lost, funerary monument of Petronia Q.f. Rufina (CIL VI 24047) reemerges at Rome’s Casino Aurora

Detail of the funerary monument of Petronia Rufina, daughter of Quintus. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

By ADBL editor Corey Brennan

Don’t call it a comeback.

It was last spotted in the Villa Ludovisi in the 1880s, and reported as “lost” in the 1986 Museo Nazionale Romano comprehensive survey of the Villa’s sculptural collection.

But it so happens that, in the interim, the important inscribed Roman funerary monument of Petronia Q.f. Rufina (CIL VI 24047, presumably 2nd c CE) never left the possession of the Boncompagni Ludovisi heads of family.

Today it can be seen in plain view, at practically the very center of the breathtaking garden of Rome’s Casino Aurora—the home of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi.

Maria Elisa Micheli article, with text, on the Petronia Rufina funerary monument in B. Palma, L. de Lachanal, M.E. Micheli (ed.), Museo Nazionale Romano, Le sculture I.6: I marmi Ludovisi dispersi (Rome 1986) p120, considering it “disperso”.


The Petronia Rufina monument at the Casino Aurora (January 2019). The vase and its base which stand on the monument are unrelated elements. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The modern story of the Petronia Rufina monument goes back to the late 16th / earliest 17th century. At some point before 1605, the humanist and antiquarian Giovanni Zaratino Castellini (1570-1641) spotted it outside of Rome’s Porta Pia, in the vineyard of the evocatively-named Orazio Petronio. There is no reason to think this was the monument’s original location. Perhaps Petronio had acquired it, thinking he had found the tomb of an ancestor, or hoping others would make the connection.

By the mid-17th century, the monument had migrated roughly 3km south, to an Orsini garden property in the vicinity of S Croce in Gerusalemme in the Rione Esquilino. That is where Ptolomaeus (Franciscus Tolomeus) saw the inscription and recorded it in a notebook of 1666 now in Siena. Raffaello Fabretti (1620-1700) and Dom Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741) also encountered the Petronia Rufina monument on Orsini land, specifying its location as “near the Baths of Empress Helena”, i.e., roughly halfway between S Croce and Porta Maggiore.

Publication of the Petronia Rufina inscription in L.A. Muratori, Novus thesaurus veterum inscriptionum III (1739) p. MCCLXXI no. 3, from the transcription of Ptolemaeus = Francisco Tolomeus. The title of “Prince of Vicovaro” belonged to the Orsini until 1692. However by the time Muratori published the inscription, it already had moved once again.

By the mid-18th century, the Petronia Rufina altar was found in a wholly different part of the city, in a sculptor’s studio behind the Collegio Greco on Via Babuino. Mons. Domenico Giorgi (1690-1747) records that the stone carver “Carlo the Neapolitan” had it there in November 1736; in this he is followed by Giuseppe Rocco Volpi (1692-1746, in his 1745 Vetus Latium Profanum vol. X) and others.

The next stop for the restless stone would be the area of Porta Salara in the north of Rome’s historic center, probably less than half a kilometer from the spot where it had started its circuitous journey. The Danish archaeologist and numismatist Jørgen (or Georg) Zoëga (1755-1809) records it at the “Villa Conti a Porta Salara”. The reference is difficult. But it should denote what was once the villa of the early eighteenth-century antiquarian Antonio Borioni, which in the early 19th century belonged to Conte Luigi Della Torre (on this, and what follows below, see G. Felici, Villa Ludovisi in Roma [1952] p111ff).

Map (detail) of the eastern end of the Villa Ludovisi in its fullest extent, showing location of the ex-Villa Borioni just west of Porta Salara. From T. Schreiber, Die Antiken Bildwerke Der Villa Ludovisi in Rom (1880).

Though the Petronia Rufina monument had now halted its momentum near the Porta Salara, the land on which it rested was soon to change hands in dizzying succession. In 1826 the ex-Villa Borioni came into the inheritance of the Count Della Torre’s daughter, the Duchess Lucrezia, wife of Luigi Publicola Santacroce, Duke of Corchiano. Five years later (1831) she sold it to the then ambassador of France to the Holy See, the Conte di Saint-Aulaire, Louis-Clair de Beaupoil (1778-1854). The great historian Theodor Mommsen later located the inscription specifically “in villa St. Aulaire”.

More transactions soon followed. In 1846 the Conte di Saint-Aulaire sold his villa to Col. Giovanni Pietro Federico De Paulsen, chamberlain of the King of Denmark. On De Paulsen’s death, his widow Elisa Thorvaldsen then in turn (in Nov. 1851) sold the property now to Duchess Lucrezia’s son, Duke Antonio Publicola Santacroce. Three months later this Santacroce flipped the villa, with his neighbor, Prince of Piombino Antonio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1808-1841-1883), as the eager buyer.

View (1885) of the ex-Villa Borioni, now as part of Villa Ludovisi. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

And that is how the Petronia Rufina monument must have found its way to the Villa Ludovisi, which now for the first time extended from Porta Pinciana to Porta Salara, totalling an area of almost 30 hectares, all within the ancient walls of Rome.

Prince Antonio Boncompagni Ludovisi must have had high regard for the Petronia Rufina monument. For he moved it once again from Porta Salara at the eastern extreme of his newly-enhanced estate, to a post directly in front of the ‘Palazzino Capponi’. That was the long, low-rise building that housed the private family museum and its famed statue gallery, which was usually the first stop for visitors after they had passed through the monumental main gate of the Villa Ludovisi.

Map (detail) of the south-central portion of the Villa Ludovisi, showing location of the ‘Palazzino Capponi’ = Statuengalerie, in relation to the ‘Palazzo Grande’ = Hauptpalast. From T. Schreiber, Die Antiken Bildwerke Der Villa Ludovisi in Rom (1880).

View (1885) of the ‘Palazzino’ housing the Ludovisi collection of statues. For much of the latter half of the 19th century the Petronia Rufina monument was displayed somewhere in front of this private museum—but its precise location unfortunately is not visible in surviving photographs. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Theodor Schreiber in his exhaustive catalog (1880) of Villa Ludovisi antiquities places the monument in front of the museum (no. 134), and adds that a Corinthian capital sat on its top. That area is probably where the great epigraphist Emil Hübner (1834-1901) encountered it; it is his description (‘in Villa Ludovisia’) that found its way into the definitive publication of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (VI 24047, published in 1890). Finally, Hermann Dessau thought the inscription notable enough to republish in his Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae in 1906 (vol. II.2 no. 8289, citing Hübner’s autopsy).

Our inscription as published in Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VI 24047 (published 1890, ed. W. Henzen)

What about Petronia Q.f. Rufina’s final move, to the Casino Aurora? One would guess that took place at some point between 1885 and 1891, when Antonio’s son Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi saw much of the old Villa Ludovisi developed, and then found himself displaced, due to financial exigencies, from Rome itself. Only the Casino Aurora remained wholly in the hands of the family.

View of the Petronia Rufina monument at the Casino Aurora (January 2019), with patera in relief on side to right. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

A quick word about the monument itself as object, and its inscription. The overall dimensions are approximately 51cm (length) X 48cm (width) X 77cm (height). About one-quarter of the original base is missing. The text shows well-carved, well-spaced letters; the first three lines have taller letters (ca. 4 to 4.5cm in height) than the five lower lines (which average ca. 3cm in height). The text itself is perfectly preserved:

D(is) M(anibus) / Petroniae / Q(uinti) f(iliae) Rufinae / matri pientissimae / fecit / Appia Severina filia / loco empto quo Tiburtini / positi quattuor demonstrant / in fr(onte) p(edes) VI in agr(o) p(edes) VIII

“To the spirits of the departed. To Petronia Rufina, daughter of Quintus, a mother most devoted, her daughter, Appia Severina, made (sc. this monument), having purchased land, as the four Tivoli (sc. marble) markers indicate, six feet by eight feet.”

Inscribed text of the Petronia Rufina monument. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Alas, neither Petronia Rufina nor her daughter Appia Severina can be identified with certainty. One interesting attribute of this inscription is the use of ‘Tiburtini’ to mean “markers made of stone from Tibur”, i.e., travertine (thanks to Anthony Majanlahti for pointing out to me the specific meaning of ‘lapis Tiburtinus’). Another is the ‘indicatio pedaturae’, the formula proclaiming the dimensions of the area purchased for the monument. (Six feet by eight feet is on the smaller side, even for Rome.)

Other elements are traditional. On the left hand side of the monument is a depiction of a single-handled jug or pitcher (urceus), on the right hand side, a shallow sacrificial dish (patera); the back of the monument is unfinished.

At present, a fluted bowl on a similarly banded stand rests on top of the monument. No ready identification presents itself (it is not in the 1986 Palma inventory). Perhaps one can be forgiven for thinking of the Ludovisi taste in strigillated vases that caught the eye of the painter Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787), who carefully sketched them. But here clearly more thought and research is needed.

Vases from the Villa Ludovisi as sketched by Pompeo Batoni (probably ca. 1720-1730), from the collection of Richard Topham (1671-1730), now in the Library of Eton College. Reproduced from B. Palma (ed.), MNR Le sculture I.4. I Marmi Ludovisi: Storia della Collezione (1983) p113

As always, the author thanks warmly †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for their long-standing generosity, support and encouragement in making possible this and any number of related studies. Any faults in fact or interpretation are solely those of the author.

The Petronia Rufina monument / fluted vase ensemble as it appeared in August 2013, with base partially submerged. Below, detail of the final five lines of the inscription. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.


  1. Thank you Corey for your comprehensive study of the Petronia Rufina monument. Your scholarly devotion, to our family history, has brought this thousand year old family alive for all current and future generations of scholars.

    Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

  2. A remarkable and impressive bit of research

  3. This is a most interesting article. I am researching a drawing of the garden of the Villa Borioni which I should like to share with you. Do get in touch.

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