NEW from ca. 1860-1900: A Boncompagni Ludovisi photo album offers unseen glimpses of the noble Choiseul-Praslin, D’Adda Salvaterra and Prinetti Castelletti families

Interview with and photo essay by Sophia Stefanowski, Kutztown University ‘23

A three year-old Nicoletta Prinetti Castelletti (later Boncompagni Ludovisi) on 12 September 1894 at Villa La Rotonda at Inverigo (near Como). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Summer 2021 marked the second iteration of the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi internship program, conducted virtually with ten undergraduate students from three institutions, and directed by T. Corey Brennan (Rutgers). We spoke with Sophia Stefanowski, a Kutztown University junior majoring in Art History, about her work with one of the (originally) many dozens of historical photo albums in the Casino Aurora archive in Rome.]

Sophia, what was the focus of your summer internship work?

Thanks to the generosity of HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, I had the pleasure to work closely with what was originally one of the dozens of Boncompagni Ludovisi family photo albums, specifically Album 45, over the summer of 2021. This album is an inside and personal view that in fact illustrates the lives of three additional families related by marriage—the Prinetti Castelletti, D’Adda Salvaterra, and Choiseul-Praslin—and their connections to one another, their country and history. The album includes approximately 300 images, dating from the 1860s to 1929, and runs 85 large-format pages.

How did these photos get collected?

We know precisely the story of the album. It was compiled by Princess Laura Boncompagni Ludovisi (1908-1975), who was the eldest of four children of Prince Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi (1886-1955, Governor of Rome 1928-1935) and Princess Nicoletta Prinetti Castelletti (1891-1931). She put together the album in 1929-30 and included handwritten Italian captions that identify and date each image. The photos are a glimpse into the complex lives of multiple families, their relations to important and famous people of that time, and showcase artwork, both lost and present, and physical structures such as family villas.

Sample page of Album 45 of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family, with annotations by Princess Laura Boncompagni Ludovisi made in winter 1929/30. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

What were the biggest challenges of the project?

The most basic part of the work. I had to first understand Laura Boncompagni Ludovisi’s elaborate and distinctive handwriting, transcribing and translating the Italian into English and then figure out the identities of each person. The first page took me almost three days, but as the summer progressed, I got better at both reading Laura’s handwriting, and identifying the Italian words. Eventually I was able to work fairly quickly to transcribe the captions, and spend more time understanding why the people themselves were important. Finally, I had to come up with an organizational structure for each of the album’s pages and their correlating photographs, to work out a categorized and chronological system. 

Descent (simplified) of album compiler Princess Laura Boncompagni Ludovisi (1908-1975)

What is the scope of this family photo album?

It first begins three generations back from Laura Boncompagni Ludovisi, showcasing photos of her bisnonni/e and trisnonni/e (I learned that bisnonno/a is great-grandparent, and trisnonno/a is great-great grandparent) and other relatives who I learned were influential.  For example, on the very first page of the album is a picture of Laura’s third great uncle, Prince Baldassarre Boncompagni Ludovisi (1821-1894), who essentially created the field of history of mathematics.

The annotation by Laura Boncompagni Ludovisi on the back of this image reads “Prince Don Baldassare Boncompagni Ludovisi, brother of my great-grandfather, in 1860”. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Also on the very first page, I discovered the family’s connection to a mysterious and very public murder. The page includes a picture with the caption “Le Marquis Edgard de Praslin.” After doing some research, I learned that his brother, Duke Charles Théobald de ChoiseulPraslin (1805-1847), in 1847 murdered his wife Duchess Françoise Sébastiani della Porta (born 1807). He then died by suicide in prison. Some say that public outrage over the murder helped spark the French Revolution of 1848, as it proved that the noble class was not trustworthy.

Edgard de Choiseul-Praslin (1806-1887), younger brother of the murderer Charles Théobald de Choiseul-Praslin, photographed in Paris in 1860. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.
Léontine de Choiseul-Praslin (1835-1911), daughter of Duke Charles Théobald de ChoiseulPraslin (1805-1847) and Duchess Françoise Sébastiani (1807-1847), “in Polish costume”, apparently soon after her marriage (1858) to Marchese Luigi d’Adda Salvaterra (1829-1915).

Tell us more about the connection between the Boncompagni and Prinetti Castelletti families.

The two families came together through the marriage in February 1908 of Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi and Nicoletta Prinetti Castelletti. Her father, Giulio Nicolò Prinetti Castelletti (1851-1908), was an important conservative politician based in Milan, who served as Foreign Minister for Italy in the years 1901-1903. The Prinetti Castelletti experienced a fascinating economic rise over the years, owning many properties with connections to French nobility, and amassed great wealth through their own entrepreneurial activities, including automobile manufacturing. The Prinetti, however, became known to have a somewhat controversial background, with the patriarch perceived as especially fiery and temperamental.

Giulio Prinetti Castelletti (not in uniform), as Italy’s Foreign Minister, accompanying King Vittorio Emanuele III on a state visit to Russia in 1902. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

So who are some of the individuals, besides the Boncompagni Ludovisi, who feature in this album?

There are many photographs of the ancestors of Nicoletta Prinetti Castelletti, who married Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi in 1908. Three years later they became Prince and Princess of Piombino. There is her paternal grandmother Giulia Brambilla, married to Luigi Prinetti (1828-1870, who does not seem to appear), and many images of her father the politician Giulio Nicolò Prinetti Castelletti at various stages of his life.

Portrait of Giulia Brambilla Prinetti, widow of Luigi Prinetti and paternal grandmother of Nicoletta Prinetti Castelletti, in 1890. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

On her mother’s side, we find photographs especially of her grandmother Léontine de Choiseul-Praslin, and her brothers (Nicoletta’s great uncles) Duke Gaston de Choiseul-Praslin (1834-1906) and Raynald de Choiseul-Praslin (1839-1916). In 1858 Léontine married Marchese Luigi D’Adda Salvaterra (1829-1915). So Laura in compiling her album refers to this couple’s daughter Francesca d’Adda Salvaterra (1860-1920) as ‘mia nonna’; they also had a son, Paolo Carlo d’Adda Salvaterra, born 1861 who died in 1889.

In 1907, in the automobile, Francesca D’Adda Salvaterra, mother of Nicoletta Prinetti Castelletti; standing at right, Francesca’s father Luigi D’Adda Salvaterra. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Sophia, some concluding thoughts on your exciting discoveries?

Though understanding the complicated family histories represented in this album involved lots of tedious work, it has opened my eyes to the vast range that art history covers, including photography. A photo album, like Album 45, is a piece of art that will forever tell the historical story of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family. Though it is personal, it is history that will be remembered, and hopefully inspire other families to publicize their own history.

Francesca Maria D’Adda Salvaterra (1860-1920), who married Giulio Prinetti in 1886, in 1889. This unusually personal and intimate picture was taken in a bedroom, perhaps of the Palazzo Prinetti in Merate (Lecco), with her in her bed and a maid nearby (to right). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Sophia Stefanowski is a junior at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in art history with minors in professional writing and communications studies. A Dean’s List student, she presided over the “Culture” section of the virtual international conference on Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi hosted by Kutztown University in February 2021. This is her first year with the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi summer internship program. Sophia lives in suburban Philadelphia.

Comments

  1. Carol McCune says:

    Absolutely fascinating!!! Wonderful article. Very impressive, knowledgeable student! More please 👍

  2. Lindsay Rushton says:

    Sophia, its obvious you have gained experience in understanding another culture so different from your own. How this will add to your maturity and growth in your field of choice is yet to be seen, but from what I can tell as a past Professor at Philadelphia University I see only positive benefits and say, “Well done!”

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