Undergraduate research & the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi after a decade: an informal discussion

From the Casino dell’Aurora archive: signed drawing (1497) by Vincenzo Giorgetti of Assisi. Shows a tomb (dated 1295) in the cloister of the Basilica of S Francis in Assisi, of Ventura son of Ranaldo, with dragon-themed stemma—likely an early member of the Boncompagni family. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

It’s the type of anniversary that takes one by surprise. A little more than 10 years ago—on the 2nd of December 2012, to be exact—we kicked off the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi (ADBL) weblog with two short articles relating to Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1502-1572-1585) and his son Giacomo (1548-1612). Each featured unseen documents from a recently-uncovered archive found in the Casino dell’Aurora in Rome, the home of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. Indeed, it was Princess Rita who discovered the documents, eventually totalling close to 150,000 pages in all, and made possible their complete digitization by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

A lot has happened over the past decade, with spectacular discoveries continuing to emerge from this archive even as a crisis about the future of this world-class cultural landmark intensifies. A forthcoming volume to be published by Brepols, authored by Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi with ADBL editor Corey Brennan, aims to tell a good chunk of the story of Rome’s Villa Ludovisi in the 17th through 19th centuries. However our ADBL (= VillaLudovisi.org) site will continue, now for a second decade, to feature detailed research—primarily by undergraduate students—on this Villa, and indeed all aspects of Boncompagni Ludovisi family history. And that is in addition to a project YouTube channel, a Google Arts & Culture partner site, and of course for latest news a Twitter account.

To mark our modest milestone, in December 2022 Brennan together with ADBL assistant director Carol Cofone (Rutgers ’17, who since 2020 has directed our summer internship program) and Professor Pierette Kulpa (Department of Art & Design, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and co-facilitator at Kutztown of a 2021 international conference devoted to Gregory XV Ludovisi) chatted via ZOOM about the past and the prospects of VillaLudovisi.org, in particular its role as a locus of high-level undergraduate research focusing on original materials. Here are the results of that chat (lightly edited), followed by a roster of students from Rutgers, Kutztown (through a formal accord with the ADBL), and other institutions who so far have contributed to the project, through academic year programs or summer internships

From the archive: testament (1496) of Contessa Giocoli of Ferrara, widow of historian Niccolò Strozzi (1413-77), in which she institutes two (well-known) grandsons as heirs. The document opens up a wide window into 15th century humanism in Ferrara. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

COREY BRENNAN: Carol and Pierette—key people in our Ludovisi project—I just wanted to mark our 10 years, and also just put forward a remarkable fact. One thing I didn’t even realize myself until I went back through the blog and looked at the authorship of every single piece. Every piece is written by someone who has a degree no higher than BA. There’s me and there’s a few others, there’s one or two other cameos, but on the whole there’s 75+ pieces written by our students, and I just wanted to basically put that out there and just say what a remarkable fact that high quality research could be produced at the undergraduate level.

PIERETTE KULPA: That’s been certainly exciting to me in revisiting many of the posts. Students from Kutztown and Rutgers and other institutions have produced some pretty phenomenal discoveries, even with the dossiers that they’ve been given, and then they come back and they’ve got all these really neat ideas. And I think it’s been one of the threads that I saw in a couple of the posts which I thought was so exciting was the work of undergrads bringing to light material and histories and people that have been overlooked, many of them anyways by history, and many of them women whose histories, you know, were maybe not prioritized in the past, and so it’s pretty cool to experience and sense those people’s lives through their work.

COREY BRENNAN: I was thinking of Erin Rizzetto‘s recent piece on Laura Chigi and here’s someone who had a long and important life if she lived to age 85, and we have portraits, but there’s—to my surprise—no Wikipedia entry on Laura Chigi. There’s not even the Treccani Encyclopedia, I mean, her life is dealt with as an appendage to her husband’s life. But she was a major figure, obviously from a big papal family and with lots and lots of connections. But until Erin set out the facts of her life, I didn’t have much of a much of a sense, and also she wrote her piece from completely unpublished and previously unknown archival sources that she was the first to look at in 250 years. You couldn’t say “Chat GPT—write me an essay on Laura Chigi”, because you could scan the entire sort of secondary text world and there’d be nothing. You have to do it for the primary documents, and not only that, you have to like transcribe often very difficult to read 18th century writing and then make sense of it all.

From the ADBL 10th anniversary ZOOM informal discussion (December 2022): clockwise from top left, Professor Pierette Kulpa (Kutztown University), ADBL editor Corey Brennan (Rutgers University), ADBL assistant director Carol Cofone.

PIERETTE KULPA: That’s been really interesting seeing students kind of grapple with that aspect of it too, from finding sources, you know, beyond what is readily available with a quick Google search, to deciphering text, and it’s not easy. Many, many hands to read, so they’ve they’ve learned a skill that they would otherwise have no no sort of experience with before, and then you know working with translation and transcription and then translation. It was very impressive to see the translation and the transcription work of many of the students.

CAROL COFONE: I have a theory that the undergraduate student is in a position—perhaps for the last-best time in their academic career—to research these topics. As they go on to graduate school, of necessity they will be directed into ever more specific, siloed areas of study. As an undergraduate, which I was when I came to this project, the wide array of topics helped me go beyond the confines of my major. The ADBL touches on so many things. Universities are big places, with tons of resources. This is especially true at Rutgers—I can’t say enough great things about it. It really changed my life. But it is difficult to take advantage of all the resources that are there. You have to cross silos to do so. I found this project originally through Rutgers’ Aresty [Undergraduate Research] Program. As a part-time student, taking one class per semester, I was unable to be officially part of that program. But you generously invited me to participate. ADBL finds you at a point in your studies where you can still be a generalist. But it finds you at a point where don’t have all the research skills you need. ADBL meets students where they are, making the most of what they’re well-positioned to do by giving them the skills they don’t yet have. What you were saying about being able to hear students’ voices come through, I think is a result of having this very particular opportunity come along at that very special moment in their academic career. I encountered nothing else like it. ADBL is a rarity in this.

From the archive: the will (6 Oct 1547) of Ugo Boncompagni, the future Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1572-1585), in which he leaves to each of his daughters (!), whether legitimate or illegitimate (!), a dowry of 2000 large gold florins, + 200 for “ornamentation”. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

COREY BRENNAN: I would make the claim, I mean thanks to Princess Rita and her late husband Prince Nicolò, I don’t know any other place where it’s students are given a hundred thousand plus documents to choose from or pages of documents to choose from and saying that no one has ever looked at this before, or even read it in 97% of the cases. The blog format actually really works for this, I think, because it’s not The Burlington Magazine. It’s a place also to be really, you can be daring, you can take risks. And a lot of these are risks because, who knows, it means you’re creating knowledge. And um, often there isn’t a bibliography or a sort of academic safety net.

CAROL COFONE: You mentioned Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita. Their generosity went beyond giving us access to their archive – they continued to do so. We talked about many of the students, who as interns, did exceptional work and are continuing to be part of this project. With most internships, you’re there for a couple of months, you have this task and then you move on. ADBL is different. Because the holdings are so vast, there’s always more to discover so you can continue your work. For example, I spent quite a while translating Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi’s [1921] memoir of his mother, Agnese Borghese. When the translation was nearly complete, you shared with me that you had discovered a painting of Agnese at the Villa from the year before she got married.  It registered with me that Ugo, in the early pages of his mother’s memoir, referred to a painting she made of herself. It turns out that the painting found at the Villa is actually this self-portrait. There are not many opportunities, sustained across years like this, that enable you to connect something you did previously with something just discovered. And there are discoveries coming out of the Villa constantly. ADBL redefines the notion of what an internship can be. And the really exceptional students who have participated over the years, continue to both get so much out of it and contribute so much to it.

COREY BRENNAN: As far as the future is concerned, I think there’s a lot to be excited about. First of all, there’s a significant portion of the archive which we haven’t had access to yet, which at some point I hope we will, that’s at a remote location. A second thing is that we just generally raised consciousness about this family and its history. And a third thing is that it’s the 400th anniversary of everything, you know, the next decade. We just had the 400th anniversary of the accession Gregory XV Ludovisi and we’re still having it, and we celebrated that with an international conference hosted by Kutztown. That was again very cheering for me to see undergraduates presenting alongside distinguished scholars and to see what that type of conference would be like, and you know, I think in some respects there was a fair amount of cohesion and continuity amongst the work.

PIERETTE KULPA: That was pretty exceptional. It was interdisciplinary and involved all levels of academics, so yes, it was pretty exciting to see that all come together.

From the archive: a (crumpled) elevation of the Palazzo dei Governatori in Visso (Macerata), restored in 1579. The Boncompagni family is attested at Visso by the late 14th century, and Gregory XIII favored the town—shaken several times in 2016 and again on 17 Apr 2018 by strong earthquakes. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

COREY BRENNAN: So I mean basically in the “what next” category, I’d like to see a paid internship. I’d also like to see a more structured, you know, environment, and also to take a look at one of the original aims of this project, which hasn’t happened yet, is to inspire other families to digitize their stuff and make it open access. And of course, also one of our projects is that we have the archive amongst ourselves, but we haven’t yet come up with the platform in which we can share the material. There’s no, I mean it’s only a technical/financial barrier right now that prohibits us from doing it. So I mean basically I would open it to the world, that’s not the issue, but it’s basically finding a stable platform where you could have 400 gigabytes worth of material and make it at least vaguely searchable.

CAROL COFONE: I think that the way events are unfolding, ADBL is like an idea whose time has come. With so many decisive things happening, so many events converging, all the effort that you’ve put into this is coalescing. I’m so glad that I got to be a participant nearly 10 years ago, to see how far we’ve come and to be present now for the most exciting time for this project yet.

COREY BRENNAN: Also one further thought, and Pierette, you’d be the best judge of this, I think there’s also something to be said for advocating for pre-1900 studies, you know? I’d say pre-20th century studies, sort of taken a hit just in general, and especially those that are not connected with, in this country, basically connected with the United States, but so it’s difficult material, I mean you’re throwing students to say, “Here’s your, here’s a 16th century manuscript in Italian, and um, see if you can make any sense of it.”

PIERETTE KULPA: There certainly are some barriers, and I think you’re right, the interest in it—it’s there, but then to dive deeper into it as a field of study or to make connections that go beyond a superficial area or maybe more challenging aspects to grasp—but it’s eternally fascinating because there are these through lines with the present. You know, we are drawn to this place because of its people and what they did, and then there’s the contemporary news that it’s making. And so understanding how this family operated and what artworks and artists were involved and in their collections and how they were managed is important today because it informs how we manage them and and deal with them today.

CAROL COFONE: If I have any one thought to close on, it’s gratitude that both Princess Rita and the late Prince Nicolò opened their archives to us. Princess Rita has spoken of the Prince’s education, and the importance they both attached to education. By extending these research opportunities, particularly to undergraduates who don’t often receive them, they have continued a family legacy, one that is well documented in the pages of Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi’s memoir of his mother.

From the archive: on 7 February 1594 Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (reigned 1576-1612) elevates the territory of Piombino to a Principate, and the city of Populonia to a Marchesate, all in favor of 13 year old Jacopo VII Appiani, now the first Prince of Piombino. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

What follows below is a list of students who have in the past or are currently working under the umbrella of the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi. RU = Rutgers University; KU = Kutztown University. For a list of ADBL board members, see here (“Collaborative Initiatives”).





From the archive in the Casino dell’Aurora: testament (17 September 1423) in which Ugo Boncompagni institutes as heir the son of the famed doctor of laws Pietro Boncompagni (†1408)—Gasparo, the great-grandfather of Ugo Boncompagni = Pope Gregory XIII. Gasparo himself would die in 1428. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

NEW from 1782: Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette write to a Boncompagni Ludovisi cardinal announcing the birth of the Dauphin

By Melis Akçakayalıoğlu (St Andrew’s School ’23)

Letter (detail) from Marie Antoinette to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi 31 January 1782, announcing the birth of the Dauphin. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

In summer 2010, HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi recovered a large trove of archival documents in a storage area of her home in Rome, the Casino dell’Aurora. These included a total of 25 letters from the years 1775 through 1787 that either Louis XVI (1754-1793) or Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) of France had sent to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1743-1790).

The couple had married on 19 April 1770 and come to the French throne on 10 May 1774. Their 1775 letters, each dated 12 December of that year, congratulate Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi on his appointment as Cardinal, which had been announced the previous month, on the 13th of November. The letter of Marie Antoinette shows that the Cardinal wrote to her sharing the news shortly afterwards, on the 15th of November.

Other than 1775, the rest of the letters are responses to the Cardinal’s New Year’s wishes. For 1776, there is a single letter dated 31 January from the King to the Cardinal, written from the palace at Versailles. For each of the other years in the series, there are messages from both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at Versailles.

All but two of those royal letters bear the same calendar date, namely 31 January, considered the last day on which one could properly acknowledge New Year’s greetings. The exceptions are 1779, when the Queen responds on 30 January, and 1787, when the King answers on 28 February, evidently annoyed at the Cardinal’s moving up the date of his annual New Year’s letter to get a quicker acknowledgement.

Portrait by unknown artist of Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1743-1775-1790) holding a letter. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The monarchs’ letters have very little personal content, except for those of 1782, which I discuss below. Interestingly, in all these letters Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette each refer to the Cardinal as “Mon Cousin,” revealing how royalty from sovereign states were expected to communicate with one another and betraying the imagined connection underlying royal lines. The Cardinal was from the line of the Princes of Piombino, since 1594 a principality within the Holy Roman Empire, and himself used the title “Principe Cardinale”. In these letters, Cardinal Ignazio clearly takes on significance as royalty for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as evidenced by this use of “Cousin.”

These letters of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette mention little in terms of significant familial or personal developments. This fact and the consistent dating seem to imply that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette merely communicated with the Cardinal out of detached respect and obligation, not true concern.

The two letters in the Vatican Apostolic Archive from the French court to this Cardinal reinforce this impression. When Pope Pius VI appointed Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi on 19 June 1785 as Vatican Secretary of State, Louis XVI and his foreign secretary the Comte de Vergennes each wrote to the Cardinal in congratulations on this promotion on 20 September 1785, three months after the announcement and later than any other European rulers (ASV Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi Prot. 10 No. 21 ff. 429-437; I owe this reference to Professor T. Corey Brennan).

However one pair of letters stands out in the long series from the Casino dell’Aurora archive, both written on 31 January 1782, which mention the birth of the Dauphin (i.e., heir apparent), Louis Joseph, born 22 October 1781. Here are my transcriptions of the letters of the King and Queen. First, Louis XVI:

Letter from Louis XVI to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi 31 January 1782, announcing the birth of the Dauphin. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Mon Cousin, Je suis persuadé que la part que vous prenez a la joie que m’a causé la naissance de mon fils le Dauphin est aussi sincère que l’assurance que vous me donnez de votre attachement au commencement  de cette année. Les sentiments donc vous accompagnez vos voeux, ne me sont pas moins agréable que les expressions donc vous vous servez et je desire véritablement trouver occasions de vous témoigner ma sensibilité et de vous faire éprouvou les effets de l’estime et de la bienveillance que j’ai pour vous. Sur ce Je prie Dieu qu’il vous ait, Mon Cousin, en sa sainte digne Grâce. Écrit à Versailles le 31 Janvier 1782. Louis.

“My Cousin, I am convinced that the part that you take in the joy that the birth of my son, the Dauphin, has given to me is as sincere as the assurance you gave me of your attachment at the beginning of this year. The feelings with which you accompany your wishes are no less pleasant for me than the expressions which you use. And I truly desire to find opportunities to show you my predisposition to make you feel the effects of the esteem and benevolence that I have for you. Whereupon I pray to God that he hold you, Cousin, in his holy worthy Grace. Written at Versailles on 31 January 1782. Louis.” [Countersigned by his secretary Charles Gravier de Vergennes]

Then Marie Antoinette:

Letter from Marie Antoinette to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi 31 January 1782, announcing the birth of the Dauphin. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Mon Cousin, La naissance de mon fils le Dauphin, est un évenément trop satisfaisant pour moi, pour que je ne sois pas très persuadée de la part qu’y ont pris tous ceux donc je connois l’attachement a ma personne; Je vous sais gré des temoignages que vous m’avez donné de votre joie dans cette circonstance ainsi que des voeux que vous formez pour moi au commencement de cette année, pour moi je ne désire que les occasions de vous donner les marques de l’estime et de la bienveillance que j’ai pour vous. Sur ce Je prie Dieu qu’il vous ait, Mon Cousin, en sa sainte digne Grâce. Écrit à Versailles le 31 Janvier 1782. Marie Antoinette

“My Cousin, The birth of my son, the Dauphin, is for me too satisfying an event for me not to be very convinced of the part played in it by all those whose attachment I know to my person. I am grateful to you for the testimonies that you have given me of your joy in this circumstance as well as for the wishes that you express for me at the beginning of this year. For my part I only desire the opportunities to give you marks of (my) esteem and the kindness I have for you. Whereupon I pray to God that he hold you, Cousin, in his holy worthy Grace. Written at Versailles on January 31, 1782. Marie Antoinette.” [Countersigned by her secretary Nicolas-Joseph Beaugeard]

Significantly, there are no letters by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi that mention the French royals’ other two children. The first was a daughter, Marie-Thérèse, born 19 December 1778. She is not found in the King’s 31 January 1779 or the Queen’s 30 January 1779 letters, though she was born just six weeks before. And after the Dauphin in 1782, there was a second son: Louis Charles, born 27 March 1785 (the future Louis XVII), who is not mentioned in the January 1786 letters.  

Video showing how the 1782 Marie Antoinette letter to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi was folded, locked and sealed before sending. From Jana Dambrogio (MIT, ADBL board member) and the Unlocking History Research Group: “Marie Antoinette’s Letter with a Removable Paper Lock, France (1782),” Letterlocking Instructional Videos. Unlocking History number 0012/Letterlocking. Filmed Jun 2014.

The Dauphin’s birth is a crucial development because it meant that a male heir has been born. This was a particularly long-awaited event for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who did not produce any children for the first eight years after their marriage in 1770, in the face of growing tension within their family and from the public. The attitude that female children and subsequent males are of lesser importance is clearly demonstrated by the fact that these children’s births were not worthy of mention in the letters. These silences also suggest that overall the letters to the Cardinal were tightly focused on their royalty connection.

As it happened, the Dauphin died in 1789, on the 4th of June, five weeks before the Bastille uprising that spelled the beginning of the end of the French Old Regime. We cannot trace these developments from the Boncompagni Ludovisi archive. By this time the series of letters to the Cardinal had broken off—he seems to have annoyed them so much that the King and Queen did not write to him after 1787—and in any case there was chaos in France, that ultimately brought down the monarchy.  Cardinal Ignazio did not live to see much of the revolution in France; he died unexpectedly in August 1790, seeking thermal bath therapy in Tuscany at Bagni di Lucca.

Melis Akçakayalıoğlu, a native of Istanbul, is a senior at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton FL where she is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program. In summer 2022 she was a member of the internship program of the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi. She thanks Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for the opportunity to study the materials in the Casino dell’Aurora archive, as well as Professor T. Corey Brennan (Rutgers University) for his guidance in the internship and suggestions on this article, which he made in consultation with Professor Catriona Seth (Oxford University), though emphasizing that she is not responsible for the views offered here.

Bronze medal of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (42mm, 38.99g), commemorating the birth of the Dauphin 22 October 1781, engraved by Pierre-Simon-Benjamin Duvivier. Credit: Bertolami Fine Arts E-Auction 68 Lot 1327 (16 March 2019)

From 1622, the earliest descriptions of Rome’s Villa Ludovisi and its Casino dell’Aurora

By Avery Soupios (Rutgers ’24)

Portraits drawn by Ottavio Leoni (1622) of Niccolò Ludovisi (1613-1664) and Isabella Gesualdo (1611-1629), married at ages nine and ten respectively by proxy at Caserta on 1 May 1622. Credit: Accademia Colombaria, Florence

With a Pope on the throne, their first princely title, and decorations for the Casino dell’Aurora in its newly purchased Rome villa complete, the marriage between nine-year-old Niccolò Ludovisi and 10-year-old princess Isabella Gesualdo on 1 May 1622 signified a peak in the Ludovisi family’s political influence and social fortune.

An immensely valuable document for this Bolognese family’s image crafting during the pontificate of Alessandro Ludovisi = Pope Gregory XV (reigned 9 February 1621-8 July 1623) is a long inaccessible book of wedding poems edited by the Bolognese poet and artist Giovanni Luigi Valesio, with only three known copies. The book, entitled Roma felice nelle felicissime nozze degl’ Ill(ustrissi)mi et Ecc(ellentissi)mi Sig(no)ri Don Nicolo Ludovisi, et Donna Isabella Gesualda, Principe, e Principessa di Venosa, was printed in Rome at the Vatican itself, in the Stamperia della Reverenda Apostolica, and is dated 15 August 1622.

Rome felice nelle felicissime nozze is one of at least six separate collections of panegyrics published in 1622 celebrating the marriage of Niccolò Ludovisi, nephew of the Pope and younger brother of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1621-1632), creator of the Villa Ludovisi. Indeed, the editor Valesio on 17 June 1622 had already published a book of his own sonnets celebrating the Papal family, titled La cicala (“The Cricket”), dedicated to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi.

Frontispiece of Giovanni Luigi Valesio, La cicala (1622), with coat of arms of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, supported by allegorized figures of Truth and Time. Credit: The Illustrated Bartsch, vol. 40 via ARTSTOR

The Roma felice composite volume contains contributions by almost two dozen poets, many attested as members of the prominent Roman literary academies of the Fantastici (to which Gregory XV Ludovisi himself belonged) or Umoristi, including important figures such as Girolamo Aleandro, Francesco Balducci, Vincenzo Cesarini, Antonio Guerengo, Marcello Giovanetti, Baldovino di Monte Simoncelli, Pier Francesco Paoli, Giuseppe Teodoli, Ottavio Tronsarelli and Francesco della Valle. The last of these writers in particular explicitly testifies to the magnificence of the Casino in its mythological and political ceiling frescoes.

Frontispiece of Giovanni Luigi Valesio, Roma felice (1622), with Cupid “tying the knot” between Ludovisi and Gesualdo coats of arms. Credit: The Illustrated Bartsch, vol. 40 via ARTSTOR

In Valesio’s engraving for the book’s frontispiece, the shield with three stripes represents the Ludovisi, and the lion with fleur-de-lis (which appears twice) is a symbol of the Gesualdo family. The iconography is in some important respects closely related if not identical to imagery in Guercino’s ceiling fresco of the ‘Fama’. Hymen, looking distinctly like Guercino’s ‘Honor’, and a cupid literally tie the knot between the coats of arms of the two families, while the three Graces look on. The winged trumpet player directly refers to Guercino’s figure of Fame. Moreover, the natural imagery reflects the landscapes in the Villa Ludovisi’s gardens, as seen in Guercino’s “Aurora”. The imagery in the engraving by Valesio, like Guercino’s frescoes, borrows the religious and mythological authority that elevates the family’s political power. Guercino goes further in stressing the sunrise of a radiant Papacy and the divine good will bestowed on the family.

Already in 1988, Carolyn H. Wood noted that “Valesio’s anthology is the best single source of panegyrics in which the Ludovisi stemma is the basis for a celebration of a golden age”. But Wood did not go much beyond this general assessment (see her Indian Summer of Bolognese Painting 92 and 157 with 103 n. 21). The Roma felice anthology does not figure in any of the contributions to the new (2022) edited volume Guercino nel Casino Ludovisi (= Storia dell’arte no. 157).

I maintain that by studying these poems (which fill over 200 pages in Valesio’s edition) in connection with other original texts from the family’s archive, we can better understand the iconographic symbolism of the frescoes and how their existence in a public sphere perpetuated important messages regarding the family’s power in Italy.

A word about chronology. On 3 June 1621, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi purchased the Casino dell’Aurora and its vineyard from Cardinal Francesco del Monte, who had owned it since 1596. Soon afterward Ludovisi commissioned multiple prominent painters to complete a series of ceiling frescoes including the Aurora and Fama by Guercino, with frames by Agostino Tassi, and landscapes by Guercino, Domenichino, Paul Bril and Giovanni Battista Viola.

As these works were being completed, the wedding of Isabella Gesualdo, Princess of Venosa, and Niccolò Ludovisi was underway—in multiple locations, but first in Caserta by means of proxy on 1 May 1622. To arrange the marriage, two portraits of Gesualdo were sent to the Ludovisi, which show up in a 1664 inventory of the family at the Villa Ludovisi in Frascati, outside Rome. 

On 3 June 1622—as we now know thanks to a letter that emerged on ebay.it in early 2020, and was purchased in 2022 for the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi—the 10 year old newlywed bride wrote to her brother in law Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi to move along plans for her finally to meet her 9 year old husband in Rome. The union took a further two and half months to achieve, culminating in ceremonies in Rome on 15 August (on the Campidoglio) and 30 November 1622 (in the Sistine Chapel).

Letter of 3 June 1622 by Isabella Gesualdo, Princess of Venosa, to her new brother-in-law, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi. Purchased on ebay February 2022 by TC Brennan and donated to Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi at Casino dell’Aurora, Rome. Now collection of HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi.

Valesio’s Roma felice volume shows that Guercino’s Aurora and Fama in the Casino dell’Aurora were fully executed by August 1622, the date of the first meeting in Rome. This confirms what we would otherwise suspect, for Giovanni Battista Viola, who worked alongside Guercino in the Landscape Room of the Casino dell’Aurora, died on 10 August 1622.

By working with family inventories, studying ceiling frescoes in the Villa Aurora, and secondary sources from Italian scholars, I was able to identify and compare repeated imagery to the cover of the book of wedding poems edited by Valesio. I transcribed and translated specific poems within the text as they mentioned the ‘Aurora’ and the ‘Fama’ of the Casino dell’ Aurora, and the Villa Ludovisi gardens. These are the first mentions of these ceiling frescoes by Guercino, and the sensory effect of the gardens.

Most important here was a long ‘Epitalamio’ by the Calabrian poet Francesco della Valle (ca. 1590-1627), 77 eight-line stanzas in length that opens the volume. It is extraordinarily rich in specific detail, revealing e.g., that Gregory XV himself approved the precocious marriage (GREGORIO disse; Nicolo sia sposo); on the occasion of the first meeting of the young couple in Rome fireworks were set off from the Castel Sant’Angelo (vomita fiamme l’Adriana mole); and that meeting was on the Campidoglio (dal Campidoglio fuo Roma s’inchina).

Opening stanza of Calabrian poet Francesco della Valle’s ‘Epitalamio’, in G. L. Valesio (editor), Roma felice (1622). Credit: Google Books.

As for references to the art of the Casino dell’Aurora, the figure of Aurora is mentioned three times in the poem, indeed scattering flowers as in the Guercino fresco (all’ or che và là mattutina Aurora / Spargendo brine, e seminando rose). The fact that the beauty of Isabella Gesualdo as represented in a painting is compared to a “phoenix”—a focal point of Guercino’s “Fama”—strongly implies that della Valle knew the art work, reinforced by his mentions of fama (twice), Virtue (10 times) and Honor (seven times) in the poem. Fully 13 stanzas are devoted to a description of the new garden of the Villa Ludovisi on the Pincio.

The Villa Ludovisi represented the papal family’s establishment of the political influence they were gaining through their new titles and the advantageous union to the Gesualdo family, who brought their own claim to power and their own degree of cultural significance, as Isabella’s grandfather, Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) was a famed composer and notorious murderer. The union of the two children brought together these two families. But the celebrations around this union also displayed the importance of music, art, and poetic testimony in the creation of familial myth and cultural legacy, and communicating political power.

Portrait drawn by Ottavio Leoni (1622) of composer Paolo Quagliati. Credit: Accademia Colombaria, Florence

During this period and following in the Renaissance, music was a signifier of an important event, and with art, formed political myth. La Sfera Armoniosa is a complicated mix of chamber duets and monodies created by the Roman composer Paulo Quagliati for the celebration of the 30 November 1622 ceremony. The work included 25 numbers and a poem from the court of Alfonso II, where Carlo Gesualdo maintained political influence. The author of the libretto for the work was none other than Francesco della Valle, whose outsized contribution to the Roma felice volume we have already seen.

Maestro Lorenzo Tozzi on the first modern performance of Paolo Quagliati, ‘La Sfera Armoniosa’ (1622), interviewed by TC Brennan in the Casino dell’Aurora, 13 August 2013. ‘La Sfera Armoniosa’ was recorded live for the Bongiovanni label on 14 May 2014 in the Auditorio S. Nicolò di Chioggia (Venice), and performed at the Casino dell’Aurora on 6 February 2015, with the sponsorship of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi.

The combination of art, poetry, music and ritual performance is crucial to understanding how this 1622 wedding brought together these two families of enormous influence. Taken together, the cultural production around this marriage illustrates well the socio-cultural ambitions these families from Bologna and Naples had in an evolving Italian noble society centered on Rome. With this understudied resource and further research, I believe we can further uncover the relationship between social prominence and artistic expression in 17th century Papal Rome.

Avery Soupios (Rutgers ’24) is a junior in the Rutgers Honors College, majoring in Art History with a double minor in Archaeology and Chemistry. In academic year 2021-2022 Avery worked on the artistic program of the Casino dell’Aurora under the auspices of Rutgers’ Aresty Research Center, and presented her work in April 2022 at the annual Aresty Undergraduate Research Symposium. She thanks Professor Brennan for his unwavering support over the course of this project. She also extends her deep gratitude to HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for granting her and other researchers access to the invaluable private family archive.

Detail from the “Aurora” of Guercino (1621), showing a villa in its landscape. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

A new self-portrait of Michelangelo? The statue of Pan at the Casino dell’Aurora in Rome. Part III: Reception

By Hatice Köroglu Çam (Rutgers ’22)

‘Pan’ attributed to Michelangelo at the Casino dell’Aurora. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Photo: T. Corey Brennan (October 2022)


In the garden of the Casino dell’Aurora in Rome, a superbly executed 16th-century statue with short horns, pointed ears, goat-like legs, an animal pelt, and an erect phallus explicitly displays how its sculptor was fascinated by classical mythology. This life-size Pan was exhibited in several different places in the area of the Villa Ludovisi since the 17th century, before landing in its present position against the southeast façade of the Casino. Starting in the late 18th century, for about 100 years the statue was commonly attributed to Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), though the identification seems largely forgotten today.

My first post “A new self-portrait of Michelangelo? The statue of Pan at the Casino dell’Aurora in Rome. Part I: Correspondences” defended the traditional attribution of the Ludovisi Pan to Michelangelo by presenting numerous correspondences between this Pan and the master’s well-known works of art, including the Moses, the David, and his drawing The Dream of Human Life; these provide ample evidence that this statue shows Michelangelo’s artistic style and language. Most significantly, the very close resemblance between the facial depiction of the Ludovisi Pan and the mask at the center of the box in Michelangelo’s Dream (ca. 1533)—widely considered to be a self-portrait of the master—reinforces the attribution to Michelangelo and indeed suggests that this statue is Michelangelo’s satirical self-portrait.

Left: ‘Pan’ attributed to Michelangelo at the Casino dell’ Aurora. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome (photo by the author). Right: Detail of Michelangelo, Il Sogno (The Dream)

My second post, “Part II: Testimonia (sketches, earlier inventories)” examined a red-chalk drawing by Michelangelo from Frankfurt’s Städel Museum, which I argued conveys quite close similarities between the facial depiction of the Pan and that of a figure on the left side of the Frankfurt sheet. Part II showed also a remarkable connection between this Frankfurt drawing and an unusually significant representation of the Ludovisi Pan by Hamlet Winstanley (1723) at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Left: detail of Michelangelo, Grotesque Heads and Other Studies (recto) ca. 1525, Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Right: Hamlet Winstanley, Statue of Pan (1723), Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Credit: L. C. Bulman, Georgian Group Journal 12 (2002) 64

Here I also stressed that examining the statue of Pan through the mirror of the 18th-century drawings and sketches gives us a chance to compare this statue’s former and present states, which show its slow deterioration. I considered representations of the Ludovisi Pan in drawings by Bernardino Ciferri (ca. 1710-30), Pompeo Batoni (ca. 1727-1730), and Antonio Canova (1780), as well as historical photographs of the statue from 1885. In sum, I came to the conclusion that this statue is literally melting away in front of the world, as it stands outside in the garden of the Casino dell’Aurora, unprotected and in fact underestimated.

The most important contribution of my Part II was a review of Ludovisi and Boncompagni Ludovisi inventory records of the 17th and 18th centuries. Based on the information from the statue’s first appearance in a family inventory, that of 1633, I surmised that the first location of the Ludovisi Pan was in or near the Villa’s “Labyrinth” (i.e., a wooded sculpture garden, in front of the Palazzo Grande) in a niche formed by an elevated sarcophagus and lid. On further reflection, in the light of the description by inventories (1633-1733) of the statue’s position between two tall cypress trees, confirmed by early maps and guidebooks, it seems that the Pan’s first location is not the Labyrinth proper. It was located further north, against the Aurelian Wall from the beginning. Indeed, the 1641 and 1733 inventories show the Pan at a location against the Aurelian Wall in what we may call the “niche” formed by an elevated sarcophagus. Also, the 1749 inventory shows a high evaluation of the Ludovisi Pan, namely as 4000 scudi.

The purpose of this post however is to gather many important testimonies, from the 17th century to the 20th century, in forms that range from private diaries to public guidebooks, to convey all the reactions to the Ludovisi Pan I could find, and trace the origin and development of its attribution to Michelangelo. I will also discuss at some length the primary subject matter of this statue—the erect phallus—because this work, which closely engages with the language of antiquity, faced difficulties in reception specifically related to its problematic subject matter.

Display of the ‘Pan’ in the garden of the Casino dell’Aurora before the 2009 renovation campaign conducted by Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. Above: ca. 1980, as illustrated in A. Schiavo, Villa Ludovisi e Palazzo Margherita (Rome 1981). Below: 2008, in image from the collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

In fact, here I will argue that it was the Pan’s erect phallus that negatively affected its placement and presentation—from at least the early 18th century exhibited with a fig leaf, and eventually positioned behind a tree—at different locations on the property of the Villa Ludovisi. Moreover, I aim to show that the phallus is what prevented this sculpture from getting proper recognition, which in turn directly affected its attribution to Michelangelo. Squeamishness about subject matter overshadowed all the stylistic similarities between Michelangelo’s works and Pan, derailed its scholarly acceptance, and caused the sculpture to be abandoned to its present fate.

I can quickly summarize the history of the reception of the statue, which falls in three phases. Though the statue of Pan certainly formed part of the Ludovisi collection by 1633, and in the later 17th and early 18th centuries is often mentioned and praised, it takes almost a century and a half after the death of Ludovico Ludovisi for us to find explicit attribution of this work to Michelangelo. The first instance is in the Journal encyclopédique of Jacques Lacombe (1775), followed by Dominique Magnan, a learned French abbot of Rome’s Trinità dei Monti convent, in 1779. In the mid-nineteenth century, the attribution to Michelangelo is common: Carlo Fea (1822), Stefane Piale (1826), Antonio Nibby (1841), Joseph Gwilt (1842), Giuseppe Robello (1854), L’Abbe Moyne (1855), Edmond Lafond (1856), and Emile Montegut (1870). How did these visitors suddenly all know the Pan belonged to Michelangelo? The Boncompagni Ludovisi, Professor T. Corey Brennan has suggested to me, may have put the title “Michelangelo” on or near the Pan, and so visitors consistently started reporting it as Michelangelo’s work.

In 1836, Ernst Zacharias Platner noted in detail the sculptural art of the Villa Ludovisi, published in his book Beschreibung der Stadt Rom III 2 (published 1838). In surveying the area of the Villa against the city wall, he specifically described the Great Battle Sarcophagus as being located inside a structure with “four granite columns” and offers a very brief analysis of the colossal bust of Alexander the Great. Significantly, Platner identifies the statue of Pan as being located at the top of an avenue against the Aurelian Wall, dating it as a 16th-century statue. He furthermore described Pan’s positioning within a niche “supported by columns.” However, his interpretation of the statue’s identification is questionable as he failed to provide any arguments for his assertion that the Pan is not Michelangelo’s work.

In his testimony, Platner stated bluntly “The statue of Pan, also under a gabled roof supported by columns, a very mediocre work, probably of the sixteenth century, is very wrongly attributed to Michelagnolo” (“Die Bildsaule eines Pan, ebenfalls unter einem von Saulen getragenen Giebeldache, ein sehr mittelmalsiges Werk, vermouthlich aus dem 16ten Jahrhundert, wird sehr mit Unrecht dem Michelagnolo zugeschrieben.”)

Platner’s interpretation is echoed in the testimonies of two other noted German scholars, Jacob Burckhardt (Der Cicerone, 1855) and Theodor Schreiber (Die antiken Bildwerke der Villa Ludovisi in Rom, 1880), who likewise also dismissed the attribution to Michelangelo in a sentence, without argument. While Schreiber seems to acknowledge the stylistic similarity of the statue to Michelangelo’s works of art (“Michelangelesque”), Burckhardt considered this Pan simply to be the work of one of Michelangelo’s followers. No scholars since the late nineteenth century have included the Pan among Michelangelo’s genuine works. Indeed, as we shall see, the scholarship on this statue from the dissolution of the Villa Ludovisi in 1885 to the present day fills not quite two pages.

Initial display of the Pan, and basic issues of attribution

Theodor Schreiber (1880) in a useful map shows the original plots of Ludovisi property and identifies which parts were bought by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, and from whom. As Kim J. Hartswick explains, “within five months of his uncle’s election” as Pope Gregory XV on 9 February 1621, “Ludovico began negotiations for the purchasing of several parcels of land on the Pincio”. He proceeded from west to east. First (3 June 1621) he purchased from Cardinal Francesco del Monte, for ten thousand scudi, the future Casino dell’Aurora, and its surrounding vineyard, and then in the next month a smaller vineyard to its northeast owned by one Leonora Cavalcanti. Next (5 February 1622) came the adjacent large vigna to the east with its “Palazzo Grande”, owned by Duke Giovanni Antonio Orsini. Third, in 1623, Ludovisi bought from the Carmelite monks of Santa Maria in Traspontina another vineyard, to the east of the ex-Orsini estate. “The extent of the cardinal’s property”, as Hartwick notes, drawing on the 1670 map by Giovanni Battista Falda, “was about forty-seven acres, extending from the via di porta Pinciana to the via di porta Salaria.”

Map showing constituent elements of the Villa Ludovisi as it stood in the mid-nineteenth century. by T. Schreiber Die antiken Bildwerke der Villa Ludovisi in Rome (1880). Elements east of the red line, which corresponds precisely to today’s Via Piemonte, were added only after the death of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi in 1632.

Documents from the administration of the Villa Ludovisi and testimonies from especially the guidebooks show us that the Pan moved four times within this area of the Villa, for reasons that can be at least partly explained. For the Pan’s first and original location, inventories of the Villa Ludovisi offer the primary documentary evidence. The 1633 inventory states that the satyr was “between two cypresses” and under an elevated sarcophagus, and the 1733 inventory repeats these “two cypresses” as the statue’s location.

Plan of the vigna Orsini, Carlo Maderno, 1622 (future Ludovisi estate), from Kim J. Hartswick, The Gardens of Sallust (2004) 56. Maderno’s rendition of the obelisk’s remains is indicated here by the red circle; the red arrow points at his detail of the two tall cypresses.

As it happens, Carlo Maderno’s 1622 plan of the vigna Orsini—at the moment Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi was expanding his property eastward and absorbing it into his estate—takes pains to show two tall cypresses against the Aurelian Wall. The map offers remarkable visual evidence, for the twin cypresses are precisely at the top of the path later named the “Viale del Satiro” which ran north from the Orsini “Palazzo Grande”, through the middle of the Labyrinth, past a large broken obelisk (shown by Maderno, and now placed before Trinità dei Monti), and up to the Roman wall. And so this description shows us that the Pan “between two cypresses” in 1633 was against the Aurelian wall. Additionally, Boncompagni Ludovisi family archivist Giuseppe Felici in his Villa Ludovisi in Roma (1952) notes in the documents that the road along the wall—today’s Via Campania—is also sometimes called “Viale del Satiro”.

Plan of the Orsini property by Stefano du Pérac. 1577. From Kim J. Hartswick, The Gardens of Sallust (2004) 22.

The earliest map of the relevant area—by Stefano du Pérac (1577)—shows the Orsini property as totally uncultivated, with no discernible system of paths, but lots of antiquities scattered about such as the broken obelisk. Maderno on his 1622 map shows a path precisely along the line of the future “Viale del Satiro”, and the property to the east of it as now cultivated. But he does not show a statue or sarcophagus-niche at the end of the path between the two tall trees near the wall. Falda’s 1670 map fully shows the extension of the Ludovisi property to incorporate the ex-Orsini vigna, and also shows the broken obelisk just beyond the labyrinth—now in a cultivated field. At the end of the path, one can see a ”niche” formed by a sarcophagus.

Plan of the Villa Ludovisi, published in G.B. Falda, Li giardini di Roma…con le loro piante alzate e vedute in prospettiva (1670)

Presumably, Ludovico Ludovisi before 1633 created that “niche” between the two tall cypresses, and placed the Pan inside it. Given that the Orsini had already started the Labyrinth, constructed a network of paths up to the Aurelian Wall (including one precisely along the lines of the future “Viale del Satiro”), and clearly had antiquities on their land, this raises the possibility (suggested to me by Professor T. Corey Brennan) that the Pan was already on the Orsini property, and came to Cardinal Ludovisi as part of the estate with the broken obelisk and other statuary.

What is clear is that Ludovico Ludovisi expanded the ex-Orsini Labyrinth, doubling it in size, and filling it with many dozens of statues. Whatever the origins of the Pan, Ludovico Ludovisi valued the statue so much that he constructed a niche for it under a sarcophagus ensemble, the latter apparently once part of the Cesarini collection (= Schreiber [1880] nos. 212-213). Friedrich Matz (Antike bildwerke in Rom I [1881 p. 336] gives a very detailed description of this sarcophagus and the lid (showing a married couple), today in Rome’s Villa Ada.

Louis-Hippolyte Lebas, view (1806) of the Labyrinth and the ‘Viale del Satiro’ in the Villa Ludovisi, looking north toward an aedicula at its terminus that housed the ‘Pan’ for much of the 19th century. Credit: L’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts

Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi died in 1632, having demonstrably given the statue of Pan a prominent position on the ex-Orsini property in a “niche” against the Aurelian Wall, at the end of a long pathway that extended due north from the entrance of the main residential palace in his new Villa, the Palazzo Grande. He evidently did not consider the statue to be the work of Michelangelo, nor does anyone else attribute it to the master until 1775. Why was this identification so slow to come?

One of the reasons clearly is that people were convinced the statue was ancient, just like the Della Valle satyrs that I discussed in my Part I. When the Pan entered the Ludovisi collection in 1621 or shortly afterward, probably it was not identified as a Michelangelo, or forgotten it was a Michelangelo, or not believed it was a Michelangelo. In the 1633 Ludovisi inventory, modern artists are identified—including Michelangelo, specifically his termini in the Palazzo Grande—and there is no reason his name would not be mentioned if known.

The Pan in its “niche” in the 17th and 18th centuries

The earliest depiction of the “niche” with its sarcophagus that we know Ludovico Ludovisi created to house the Pan statue is from 1650, on a bird’s-eye view map, looking west to east, by Flemish artist Conrad Lauwers. Clearly visible on the map is the long avenue extending from the entrance of the Palazzo Grande—at least later known as “Viale del Satiro”—leading to an assemblage with two-by-two columns in front supporting a flat roof, and two taller ones in the back, positioned against the Aurelian Wall. There is no effort to show unusually tall trees here or elsewhere. In the Louwer’s view, the Labyrinth has two distinct parts: to the right/east of the “Viale del Satiro” (Orsini plan), and to the left/west of the Viale (new plan). The cultivation extends to the west of the “Viale del Satiro”.

Plan of the Villa Ludovisi, Conrad Lauwers, 1650. From Carla Benocci, Villa Ludovisi (2010) 88.

G. B. Falda’s 1670 view, taken from south to north, shows the niche from its front, with a façade of four columns supporting a tall sarcophagus, but he does not show two tall cypresses and non-colossal unprotected statues. Even though the Labyrinth, the piazza in front of the building he labels as a Museum (Casino Capponi), the walks, and the area around the Casino dell’Aurora were demonstrably filled with urns, statues, and sarcophagi, Falda only shows a few giant pieces along the wall and a few around the foundation of the Casino dell’Aurora.

For the Pan’s location, the earliest written testimony outside of the inventories (1633, 1733) is by Francis Mortoft, a young English traveler who visited the Villa Ludovisi on the afternoon of Sunday 9 February 1659 during the lifetime of Niccolò Ludovisi, younger brother of Ludovico Ludovisi. In a diary (first published in 1925) he finds the Ludovisi Pan against the Aurelian Wall, where Falda’s map of 1670 has it. In Mortoft’s manuscript, among his extensive descriptions of the sculptures in the area of the Villa Ludovisi, he positions the Ludovisi Pan at the “lower end” of the garden—i.e., against the Wall—and also mentions as in its vicinity the colossal bust of Alexander the Great (called “Commodus”), and the Great Battle Sarcophagus. He calls the Pan “ridiculous”, yet does justice to the fact that it is well done, though he does not describe it as Michelangelo’s work—all important because it explains the Pan’s later reception. He writes that after a visit to art housed indoors,

“…we went about the Garden, where, at the lower end, we saw a very ridiculous statue of a satyr, which canot but stir up any man to much laughter in looking on such a Rediculous piece, but yet very excellently well made. A little below is the Head of Commodus, the Emperor, and not far from it is a description of a Battell of the Rom[ans], made all of one stone, where is to be seen at least 40 several pieces of men and horses, some fighting, some dying, and some killing others, and everyone representing these Actions that they were in, so much to the life that by all Report it is esteemed to be one of the most incomparable pieces that were ever made by any human hands.”

Another useful testimony about the first and the original location of the Pan is from Pietro di Sebastiani’s 1683 book, Viaggio curioso de’ palazzi, e ville più notabili di Roma. Sebastiani describes the location of the Pan against the wall without associating it with Michelangelo. “There are gardens, vegetable gardens, vineyards, woods, avenues, but what is more than amazing is a Labyrinth arranged in the form of a gallery in a forest, and adorned with ancient statues, and in good taste, which seems enchanting. The whole site is adorned with statues, low reliefs, colossi, terms, urns, & other ancient things, & the Satyr and low relief beside the walls are marvelous (il Satiro e basso rilievo accanto le mura riescono di merauiglia)”.

From Pietro Rossini’s 1693 Mercurio Errante, the first page of his detailed (pp. 91-95) description of the Villa Ludovisi. Credit: Google Books

In 1693, Pietro Rossini offers a thorough description of the garden areas of the Villa Ludovisi in his influential Mercurio Errante. It is worth quoting expansively, since here he goes far beyond his predecessors Mortoft and di Sebastiani in providing detail (extending even to measurements), while confirming their reports of the location of the Pan. Rossini measured the gardens’ total circuit as 1500 passi romani (= ca. 2130 meters); the future Viale dei Cipressi that led from the Villa Ludovisi main gate to the colossal “Faustina” (i.e., Juno) as 200 passi in length and 5 passi in width (= ca. 296 x 7.4 meters); and the Labyrinth as 85 passi long and 60 passi wide (= ca. 126 x 89 meters). In the Labyrinth, Rossini places a “curious Egyptian idol;…beautiful Consular figures; two Barbarian Kings, prisoners with their hands tied; the handsome Silenus, who sleeps on an ancient urn decorated with a battle in low relief; the group of the Satyr with the young Faun; the Statue of Leda” as well as sixteen busts of emperors and “the beautiful Statue of Nero in sacrificial dress”.

Rossini then differentiates the Labyrinth to what lies to its north. “You will come out of the Labyrinth, and entering the Vineyard (Vigna) you will see a large Obelisk on the ground, 30 passi long and 5 palmi wide [i.e., 44.4 meters long—a wild exaggeration—and a little more than a meter wide].” The author then turns to the Viale “that corresponds to the Palazzo [i.e., the ex-Orsini Palazzo Grande]”. He measures that as 170 passi long and 3 passi wide (= ca. 252 meters long and 4.5 meters wide). Rossini continues regarding this viale: “at the bottom of it, near the walls of the City, there is a statue of a Satyr by a good craftsperson. Above this one sees an ancient Sepulcher with two portraits. (…vi è la Statua d’un Satiro di buon Artefice. Sopra di questo si vede un Sepolcro antico con dui ritratti). Beyond this, you will continue along the walls toward the west, and you will see the head, whether a colossal one of Alexander Severus or someone else” followed by the Great Battle Sarcophagus, on which Rossini speculates at some length.

Rossini’s account not only confirms for 1693 the placement of the Pan at the top of an avenue that terminates at the Aurelian Wall. It also offers the first literary description of the Pan’s sarcophagus-topped niche, and also suggests that the “Viale del Satiro” was second only to the “Viale dei Cipressi” in dimensions and importance. Later editions of Rossini’s Mercurio Errante (starting with that of 1700) also add more (inaccurate) detail on the sarcophagus, asserting that its inscription identifies it as that of “the consular M. Aurelius and Theodora his wife”. (In reality, it is Aurelius Theodorus and his wife Varia Octavia.)

Joseph Vernet’s 1737 sketch of the “niche”, formed by a sarcophagus and lid mounted on columns, with the Pan (with fig leaf) placed inside, close by the Aurelian Walls that bounded the Villa Ludovisi to the north. Credit: D. Cordellier, P. Rosenberg, & P. Märker, Dessins français du musée de Darmstadt (2007) 459. See also detail below.

The most significant and earliest drawing showing the actual context of the Pan is by Joseph Vernet, dated 1737. It shows at the end of a broad avenue what is unmistakably the Ludovisi Pan, rendered in great detail. Even though Vernet seems trying to be very realistic in his depiction, he shows the Pan without its tree trunk which supports the sculpture. Unlike Vernet’s depiction, the other representations by 18th-century artists display the Pan with its tree trunk. The sculpture in Vernet’s drawing stands on the ground within a façade formed by four columns, two on each side. A surface behind the Pan is visible, with a rectangular niche not much taller than the human-sized statue. Above the columns is placed an unusually deep sarcophagus with a lid depicting a married couple in three dimensions, all against the city wall. There is also the subtle suggestion of a path running horizontally in front of the statue, along the wall. Before the columns on either side are set two low and square objects, which are standing slightly raised on four legs, and seem like small marble bases; presumably, lamps would have been placed on them. The one on the right looks hollow with a raised lid. This drawing also shows two immense cypresses, one on either side of the structure. It is important to note the depiction of this statue with a fig leaf hanging on its genitalia—the earliest rendering of this covering.

Italian antiquarian Francesco De Ficoroni’s testimony regarding the Pan demonstrates that the niche with sarcophagus was still extant in 1744, with the Pan under it. “At the end of this third large road, you can see the curious statue of a Satyr, with an urn [i.e., sarcophagus] on it, where a marriage, with its inscription from a late age, is carved in bas-relief and carved.” (“Nel fine di questo terzo stradone si vede la curiofa statua d’un Satiro, con Sopra un’ urna, dove a bassariluevo e scolpito un Matrimonio, con sua iscrizione del basso secolo.”) As documentary evidence, without mentioning its location, the 31 March 1749 inventory record of the sculptures in the Villa Ludovisi gives the Ludovisi Pan a high value of 4000 scudi. As we have seen in Part II of this study, of statues exhibited outside the Villa Ludovisi, only three earn a higher valuation, each of them colossal in scale.

Following De Ficorini, Ridolfino Venuti’s 1766 book Di Roma Moderna, as part of an extensive description of the sculptures of the Villa Ludovisi, also describes the Ludovisi Pan as positioned against the Aurelian Wall. This comes as part of a survey of “the most noteworthy” statues exhibited outside in or near the area called “the Labyrinth”. He lists nine works in rapid succession: “two captive Barbarian Kings; the beautiful Silenus, who rests on the wineskin; the group of a Satyr with a small Faun; another [group] of Leda, and of Nero; another satyr; and the great head of Alexander Severus. In the avenue on the right you can see the statue, quite curious, of Nero, dressed as a priest; and a beautiful statue of Mercury, with some women gazing at the sky. It is not known whether they are Sibyls or Muses.”

Venuti then reports that there is “on the third avenue”—apparently the Viale del Satiro—”the head of black marble, colossal with hair, and horribly unattractive, perhaps some Lemur or terror-causing god.” This piece is not readily identifiable. He then continues, “At the end [of the third avenue] is the statue of a Satyr with an urn [i.e., sarcophagus] above, where in bas relief there is carved a marriage [scene] with its inscription of late antiquity”. In the very next sentence, Venuti mentions the Great Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus: “further along the Aurelian Walls, there is another large urn, where there is carved a battle between Romans and Persians”.  (Nel terzo viale la testa di marmo nero colossale con capelli, a cesso orribile, forse qualche Dio Lemure, o Terifico; nel fine la statue d’un satiro con sua iscrizione del basso secolo. Interno alle mura d’Aureliano e’un’altra grande urna, ov’e scolpita una battaglia fra Romani, a Persiani, opera del tempo d’Alessandro Severo.)

Moreover, we must note a significantly changed later edition of Pietro Rossini’s Mercurio Errante, originally published in 1693 and discussed above. The 1776 edition literally copies Venuti’s 1766 description of the Ludovisi Pan at the niche against the wall and other statues at the Labyrinth, and so has no independent value.

Hubert Robert’s 1764 depiction of the “niche” at left, along with the colossal Juno at right, against the city wall. Credit: Artstor (with erroneous date ‘1789’)

Indeed, there is good reason to believe that even when Venuti published his guide in 1766, the display of the Pan had seen important changes. In a drawing dated 1764, Hubert Robert depicts a large structure on the site of the original “niche” being examined by two visitors. The façade consists of four noticeably tall columns, and there is now a concave back to the “niche”, and on top a different sarcophagus—much more shallow than the one we find in Vernet’s 1737 drawing, without a three-dimensional lid. Close by on the right side of the structure, the colossal “Juno” is depicted, even though in reality it was much further away along the pathway of the wall. Also, a tall cypress tree is shown on the right side of the “niche”. In the composition, people are shown climbing on the walls; indeed someone is drying clothes on a level above the “niche”. The artist depicts at least four enormous barrels placed somewhat haphazardly around the structure.

It is the whole “niche” structure that dominates Robert’s drawing. He also does not show any sculpture within, because he has chosen a vantage point that hides the statue inside the niche. It would seem that the artist deliberately removes the Pan from view; if so, we may view the incongruous barrels as attributes of the Pan, a substitute for depicting him. As for the unexpected “shallow” sarcophagus on top, as we shall see, the deeper sarcophagus with a three-dimensional lid was indeed at some point removed from the “niche”, to the area just east of Juno, as 1806 drawing from Louis-Pierre Lebas shows.

Separation of the Pan from the Aurelian Wall, and the building of a new aedicula

So far in our discussion, the testimony that the Ludovisi Pan was moved in the mid-eighteenth century from its original location against the city wall (seen in the Vernet sketch of 1737, and in the travel guides of De Ficoroni 1744 and Venuti 1766) to the Labyrinth is slight, essentially only the 1779 account of Magnan. Yet visual confirmation for the removal of the Pan is soon to come, as we shall see, in the first years of the nineteenth century. Drawings from the years 1800-1806 by French architects Louis-Pierre Baltard (1764-1846) and Louis-Hippolyte Lebas (1782-1867) show a different statue in its place at the top of the “Viale del Satiro”. Furthermore, an 1806 drawing by Lebas shows that the original “deep” sarcophagus with its three-dimensional lid that had topped the “niche” was removed and placed further to the east, apparently with its own protective wall.

Louis-Hippolyte Lebas, drawing of the sarcophagus of the “niche” after its move, 1806. Credit: L’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts

What was the motivation for this transformation? As Professor Brennan has suggested to me, it was the crumbling of bricks of the Aurelian Wall precisely at the terminus of the Viale del Satiro. This prompted a reevaluation of the niche and caused the Pan to be moved away from the Wall into the Labyrinth, and the deep sarcophagus and its lid to be removed from the niche, and placed further east, where it was in fact protected and highlighted to better effect. Records from the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi show that the wall near the Viale del Satiro had suffered a major collapse on 8 April 1786. Prince Antonio (II) Boncompagni Ludovisi and the Conservators of the city of Rome split the cost for the repairs, which came to 350 scudi, each employing their own architects, Melchiorre Passalacqua for the family and Carlo Puri de Marchis (1715-1790) for the city. Patching to the bricks can still be seen in the relevant portion of the Wall today. The Pan may have been moved away from the wall even prior to 1786, if the instability of the Wall was evident.

The second location of the Pan, one assumes in the Labyrinth, was to last just a few decades at most. In the principate of Antonio (II) Boncompagni Ludovisi (1777-1805), and probably before 1800, the original “niche” was reworked into a neoclassical aedicula, with pediment and pitched roof. This aedicula was constructed precisely on the spot of the “niche”, to maintain the strong visual focus on the terminus of the “Viale del Satiro”—but also, we can assume, to offer better protection from falling bricks. In time, this would be the Pan’s third location, where it would remain until the dissolution of the Villa Ludovisi. The likely architect of this structure was Melchiorre Passalacqua, from a famed family of architects, who built the main gate of the Villa Ludovisi in 1809.

Louis-Pierre Baltard (1800-1802), drawing of the new aedicula with a female sculpture against the city wall. Credit: Bibliothèque municipale de Bordeaux

The new aedicula itself in fact shows three stages of development. The first artistic depiction of this new aedicula, dated between 1800-1802 and confirming its placement, is by French architect Louis-Pierre Baltard. The interior of the structure is shown with a romanesque arch in the back, with no ornamentation. Surprisingly, a life-size female figure is shown within. Here Baltard seems to create a deep perspective with the depiction of the female sculpture and its pedestal. Indeed, they look like a mural painting, as a part of the back wall, when compared to the column’s three-dimensionality.

The second depiction of the new aedicula is by the French architect Louis-Hippolyte Lebas, and consists of both an elevation and ground plan. His drawings are probably to be dated to 1806, the year he was at the French Academy in Rome—in the Villa Medici, next door to the Villa Ludovisi. He also sketched the Casino dell’Aurora, in its pre-expansion (1855-1858) state. In Lebas’ elevation, the aedicula is shown with a rectangle back, with fake foliage clustered about. What seems to be a Medusa head has been added to the pediment. Within an unidentified figure is vaguely rendered, more consistent with the female sculpture that Baltard showed us that with our Pan. In truth, Lebas seems not so much interested in the sculpture, which seems deliberately anonymized, as its structure. On the same sheet as this drawing, he depicts the ground plan of the aedicula, with six columns arranged in a 4 x 2 pattern. When comparing Lebas’s depiction of the aedicula with that of Baltard, the placement of the pedestal and the three-dimensionality of the columns are not the same.

Louis-Hippolyte Lebas, ground plan of the aedicula, and elevation of the aedicula with unidentified statue, 1806. Credit: L’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts

Indeed, Lebas’s 1806 drawing may capture the moment when the Boncompagni Ludovisi architect is preparing the niche for the Pan—hence the fake vegetation—but has not yet removed the female statue. It remains an open question where the Pan was ca. 1800-1806 when the aedicula was first built. In all likelihood, it was in the Labyrinth. But perhaps it was moved inside the Boncompagni Ludovisi Museum (= Casino Capponi) by Antonio II, and then for reasons of subject matter, moved back out after his death in 1805 by his son Luigi Boncompagni Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino from 1805 to 1841. Wherever the statue was placed, surely it was still kept in a place of honor.

A third phase of the aedicula, with the Pan, finally restored within, can be seen in the 1885 photos of the Villa Ludovisi. The ‘Medusa’ relief sculpture is still intact, as is the fake foliage. But now a wrought-iron fence surrounds the columns, and the pitched roof has gained a chimney. The chimney may belong to the mid-19th century, added at the same time as gas lights are installed on walkways of Villa Ludovisi.

The Pan in its aedicula as it stood in 1885, with chimney installed on roof. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Why a chimney? Here Giuseppe Felici in his Villa Ludovisi (p. 256 n. 35) offers an answer. He cites a May 1893 document that envisions the sale of the collection of statues.  Two statues are explicitly left out of the sale: Bernini’s Proserpina, said to be “found at the base of the principal staircase” in the new Palazzo Piombino on Via Veneto; and “the statue of the Satyr that is in the tempietto where is the so-called tiro del calorifero”. The “calorifero” means radiator or heater, and so the phrase (not easily paralleled in Italian) apparently means chimney. Perhaps there was an actual heater in the temple to warm up people on winter walks.

One further point. An 1833 description by marble specialist Faustino Corsi says all the columns—four in front, two behind—were made of “Hymettian marble”, i.e., marble from Mount Hymettus near Athens. And so he thought all six columns to be ancient. In any case, it seems that when the Boncompagni Ludovisi dismantled the “niche” with the sarcophagus, they reused the configuration of 4 columns that fronted the original structure, and surely other elements as well. Schreiber (1880) claims that four columns were ancient; two were modern.

The gradual acceptance of attribution to Michelangelo

The earliest testimonies identifying the Pan as by Michelangelo come from the 1770s. First, the Lacombe dictionary, Dictionnaire historique et géographique portatif de l’Italie…A-M, Volume 1, published in 1775, has the following anonymous entry. “The gardens, works of [André] Le Nôtre [1613-1700], are charming: they contain beautiful statues, an ancient colossal Faustina [i.e., the Juno]; a natural-size Satyr, by Michelangelo; an ancient Silenus, sleeping with his head leaning on a wineskin; an ancient tomb between four tall cypress trees, offering a vantage point to one of the avenues.” This description is too brief to indicate whether the Pan was still in its original location against the city wall, though the mention directly following the Juno implies it.

Next, in his 1779 book Descrizione Della Citta di Roma II, the French abbot Dominique Magnan (1731-1796) also considers the Pan as by Michelangelo’s hand and interestingly describes this statue at its second location—the Labyrinth proper. It is a summary list, overlapping in good measure with that of Venuti (1766), and his description mentions nothing about a structure for the Pan. “There you can see a labyrinth, a beautiful variety of avenues, most of them made up of cypresses, laurels and holm oaks, basins, jets of water, urns, busts, ancient bas-reliefs, and a large number of statues, among which we observe the figure of a half-colossal woman, whose draperies are plain; a reclining Silenus; two captive Kings; a group of a satyr and a faun; Nero in a priestly dress; Mercury in the company of women who look at Heaven; and a standing satyr of natural size, made by Michel’Angiolo Buonarroti” (un Satiro in piedi di naturale grandezza, fatto da Michel’Angiolo Buonaroti.) 

However, the impact of these early attributions to Michelangelo initially seems quite limited. In 1780, as I discussed in Part II, the famed neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) sketched the Ludovisi Pan on the same sheet with an ancient group of sculptures, Pan and Daphnis (now in Palazzo Altemps). In a travel diary for the years 1779-1780 (published in 1957) Canova, at the time aged 22, tells how he visited the Ludovisi Pan on Wednesday 26 April 1780, and he drew this statue the following week, on Saturday 6 May. But he knows nothing of its identification as a work of Michelangelo.

Antonio Canova, Statue of Pan and Group of Pan and Daphnis, 1780. Bassano, Museo Civico (Neg. E. b. 15 1026). From Palma, MNR I 4 (1983) 162.

In his diary of the first visit to the Villa Ludovisi, Canova mentions the statues and sarcophagi in the garden and inside four consecutive rooms of the Casino dell’Aurora. For the exterior art, after mentioning other statues and sarcophagi, he notes another sarcophagus and then a satyr—our Ludovisi Pan—and he highlights its high quality and doubts about whether it is ancient. (Vi sono altri sarcofagi, e poi un satiro di buona scultura ma non lo credo antico). For this initial visit, he says that he did not start to draw the statues because a servant always accompanied him on this day. On Thursday 27 April, he started drawing interior statues, such as the “Gladiator” (= Dying Gaul) and Mars. After visiting several other places in Rome, at the end of the following week, he returned to the Villa Ludovisi. On 6 May, in the morning, Canova draws first the Ludovisi Pan, and then another sketch, that of the Pan and Daphnis group. (Roma 6 Maggio 1780: Questa mattina andiedi dopo la cademia nella villa Ludovisi e mi misi a disegnare il Sattiro, poi fecci unaltro schizzo del gruppo del satiro che insagna a sonare la zampogna ad un fauno …)

Canova does not note the Pan’s location other than the fact it is outside. Nor does he have anything to say about a protective structure. Yet Canova’s testimony is of extreme importance for our study, for it shows that he admired its workmanship, was unaware of the statue’s recent attribution (Lacombe 1775, Magnan 1779) to Michelangelo, and indeed felt compelled to note that he did not think the Pan to be ancient. Canova in his actual drawing also depicts a hole in Pan’s genitalia that marks the place where a fig leaf would be mounted, confirming Joseph Vernet’s 1737 depiction showing that enormous fig leaf. The 1885 historical photos show the statue still with this fig leaf.

The Swiss painter and writer Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) independently shared Canova’s suspicions on the Pan, but developed those thoughts more fully: he argued that the work was a Renaissance classicizing statue that predated Michelangelo. Fuseli says the statue was not ancient, but so close to Michelangelo’s style that Michelangelo modeled his Moses on it. He thought that Michelangelo studied the statue for an arm and the head of Moses. However, he does not say that it was by Michelangelo.

“In his Lectures”, wrote James Dennistoun in 1851, “Fuseli has exposed several of [the Moses’] defects, and the impression it most frequently leaves upon the spectator is thus aptly expressed by him in an Italian letter to the translator of [Daniel] Webb On the Beautiful”.  The reference is to Irish writer Daniel Webb’s An Inquiry into the Beauties of Painting (London 1760), which in 1791 was published in Venice in an Italian translation by Maria Quarini Stampalia (†1849).

Then follows a quotation from Fuseli writing to Quarini Stampalia, probably no earlier than ca. 1790: “In the Moses, Michael Angelo has sacrificed beauty to anatomical science, and to his favorite passion for the terrible and the gigantic. If it is true that he looked at the arm of the famous Ludovisi satyr, he probably, also, studied the head, in order to transfer its character to Moses, since both of them resemble that of an old he-goat. There is, notwithstanding, in the figure [of Moses] a quality of monstrous grandeur which cannot be denied to Buonarroti, and which, like a thunderstorm, presaged the bright days of Raffaele.” Fuseli’s views gained wide circulation, and for instance, were quoted by Stendhal in 1817.

The aedicula of the Pan as it stood in 1885; the arrow indicates the new location of the sarcophagus and lid that topped the original “niche”, set up by 1633 and dismantled before 1800. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

A turning point in the reception of the Pan as a work of Michelangelo seems due to the pioneering Italian archaeologist Carlo Fea (1753-1836), who praises the Ludovisi Pan and for the first time in more than 40 years pronounces it in print as the work of the master. In his 1822 book, Descrizione di Roma e de’ Contorni, vol. II, Fea conveys his observation about the sculpture by walking in the Villa Ludovisi along the Aurelian Wall from west to east. “The gardens are filled with many statues and sculptures, including a colossal head of Alexander, a large sarcophagus representing a battle between the Romans and the Dacians; a statue of Jupiter Ammon: a life-size standing Satyr by Michelangelo, so beautiful that it is comparable to any ancient work (un Satiro in piedi di grandezza naturale di Michelangelo; cosi bello che è paragonabile a qualsivoglia opera antica). [Then] a cinerary urn with bas-relief of a battle between Greeks and Romans; and above it an ancient Silenus asleep; with his head resting on a wineskin.” Fea’s description implies that the Pan is now back against the Wall and in the aedicula.

Soon afterward, Stefano Piale also identifies the Ludovisi Pan as Michelangelo’s work and describes it in the niche against the city walls. In his Le Ville de Rome (1826) he devotes a section to the Villa Ludovisi and the sculptures in the garden. But his account simply translates verbatim that of Magnan 1779  and has no independent value

More authoritative is Italian archaeologist and topographer Antonio Nibby, who describes the statue of Pan as made by Michelangelo in his posthumously published 1841 book Roma nell’anno MDCCCXXXVII (vol. II, p. 398 ff.) He relates that in the Villa’s “grove” (bosco) one sees “the colossal sarcophagus, the colossal statue of Pluto, the colossal head of Alexander the Great, a semi-colossal figure reclining, a Silenus immersed in sleep, two captive barbarian kings, the Satyr by Michelangelo Buonarroti.” Nibby highlights the Pan’s position that the Pan was near “two enormous plane trees”.

In 1842, the monumental work of English architect Joseph Gwilt (1784-1863), An Encyclopaedia of Architecture, Historical, Theoretical, and Practical, shows the Pan as Michelangelo’s work, providing a sketch. It is a quite small image, and amazingly the first published representation of the work; everything else we have seen so far has been private sketches and drawings and a photograph in an album produced for the Boncompagni Ludovisi family. Gwilt’s book proved hugely popular and saw many further editions (1859, 1876, 1891, 1899), each time with this sketch of the Ludovisi Pan. As it happens, no other author published an image of the sculpture until Beatrice Palma in her 1985 catalogue of the Ludovisi pieces in the Museo Nazionale Romano. Interestingly, in Gwilt’s volume, the depiction of the face of the sculpture is evocative of Michelangelo’s later appearance portrayed by Daniela da Volterra.

The first published image of the Pan (second from left), in Joseph Gwilt, An Encyclopaedia of Architecture, Historical, Theoretical, and Practical (1842) 739.

After Nibby and Gwilt, identifications of the Pan as by Michelangelo become routine. For example, Giuseppe Robello in his 1854 book, Les curiosités de Rome et de ses environs, devotes a section on Villa Ludovisi. “Walking through the alleys of the villa, you can still see many statues, busts, bas-reliefs, and antique urns. You will notice, among other things, a satyr which can compete with the best Greek works; it is by Michelangelo.” Moreover, in his 1855 Italie: guide du jeune voyageur, L’Abbe Moyne describes the statues in the garden of Villa Ludovisi and considers the Pan by Michelangelo as one of its priceless pieces. “It takes nothing less than the Villa Ludovisi to make you forget the Capuchins [i.e., their notoriously grisly crypt, now on Via Veneto]. Located on the slope of Mount Pincius, it occupies part of the gardens of Sallust; Le Nôtre, its designer, inspired by this memory, seems to have wanted to surpass himself in his decoration. Although the Ludovisi villa has not retained all of its reputation and rival villas are now vying for public recognition, it deserves, more than many others, to be visited. Its three palaces contain treasures of sculpture and painting. The antique groups of Orestes and Electra; a draped statue, the Repose of Mars; the death of Paetus and Arria; the Satyr by Michelangelo; and the Proserpina by Bernini are priceless pieces.”

Edmond Lafond in his 1856 book, Rome, lettres d’un pèlerin, vol. II, similarly considers the Pan to be Michelangelo’s work. “Let’s go back to Villa Ludovisi”, he writes. “Its gardens, carved into the old gardens of Sallust, extend to the crenelated walls of the City which form a magnificent enclosure. There, at the end of an aisle, is a colossal Satyr by Michelangelo (On y trouve, au fond d’une allée, un Satyre colossal de Michel-Ange.)” This is the first author to describe the statue as “colossal”; perhaps he did not walk the full length of the path he reports and so saw the sculpture at a distance. The French poet and writer Louise Colet in her book L’Italie des Italiens: Rome, published in 1864, also mentions the Pan as a highlight in her detailed description of the Villa Ludovisi. Among the sculptures found in the gardens, there is “a superb statue attributed to Michelangelo’s radiant throne”.

Former site (as seen in April 2021) of the Pan aedicula, against the wall near the intersection of the present day Via Campania and Via Toscana. The ground level is several meters lower today, thanks to the post-1885 construction work that formed the Rione Ludovisi. Credit: Google Streetview

Yet against Fea, Nibby, Gwilt and these others, the Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt took a different position. In his 1855 book Der Cicerone: Eine Anleitung Zum Genuss der der Kunstwerke Italiens, in a quick survey of satyr sculptures in Rome, he states that the Ludovisi Pan was not executed by Michelangelo but by a later 16th-century imitator. Burckhardt does not tell us how he arrived at that conclusion. But his point indicates that contemporary visitors now generally believed the Pan to be by the master. “Often [one finds] a small Pan in a cloak with the multi-piped shepherd’s flute in his hand, with a funny expression of waiting and watching”, writes Burckhardt. He cites examples in the courtyard of the Capitoline Museums, and “also in the garden of the Villa Albani; the one in the garden of the Villa Ludovisi is a work of the 16th century, but not by Michelangelo, but by an affected imitator of the same (derjenige im Garten der Villa Ludovisi ist ein Werk des 16. Jahrhunderts, aber nicht von Michelangelo, sondern von einem affektierten Nachahmer desselben).”

If French journalist and critic Armand de Pontmartin (1811-1890) knew of Burckhardt’s views on the Pan, he ignored them. In his 1865 book Nouveaux samedis vol. II, de Pontmartin offers an imaginative dialogue between the Pan and an author who visits the Villa Ludovisi, fascinated by the statue’s vivid details. (For the sculpture’s features as they once appeared, see my Part II.) In this story, the narrator explicitly believes that this statue was made by Michelangelo.

Pontmartin writes, “The author goes a step further, and finds himself in the presence of a satyr. The gigantic shadow of Michelangelo hovers over this ensemble like an eagle over its threshing floor.” Then, significantly, de Pontmartin points out how the vivid and life-like depiction of the god Pan impressed the visitor and prompted an intense dialogue between them. “Then it seems that the marble satyr comes to life and that his flesh quivers before his eyes, in this imagination endowed with such life that it vivifies death and idealizes matter.” Furthermore, we are told that “between the walker and the statue a dialogue is established which sums up the immortal antagonism, the implacable duel of good and evil, of the soul and the senses, of the spirit of clarity and the spirit of darkness, Christianity and paganism”. 

It is quite important to state that de Pontmartin’s testimony confirms not only the strong belief in the mid-19th century that the sculptor of the Pan was Michelangelo but also the unfortunate loss of details of this statue—details which we have seen fascinated 18th-century artists. Similarly, Michelangelo’s sculptural language—especially his depiction of the anatomical details—gives the same sense to viewers, largely lost in replicas such as that of his David.

Writing in 1870, the French critic Jean-Baptiste Joseph Émile Montégut (1825-1895) considered the Pan to be Michelangelo’s, yet categorized it as a “secondary work” among those of the master in Rome. “I pass over a few works of secondary importance”, says Montégut, “of no interest to anyone who has not seen Rome: a head of Christ at Santa Agnese at Porta Pia; a painting representing Christ on the cross in the Doria Palace; two figures of apostles, fresco painting studies, made by Michelangelo in his youth, in the Borghese Palace; his own portrait, at the Capitoline Gallery. Among these works, most of which are moreover contested, there are some that we will have occasion to find on the way, the Satyr of the Villa Ludovisi for example; but we cannot however omit the frescoes executed for the Pauline Chapel, in the Vatican”. Finally, one notes that in the Fratelli Treves guide Rome and the Environs (1889 with later editions), there is a very interesting and indeed wild interpretation of the Pan’s animal pelt hanging over his right shoulder—one of the characteristic features of the god Pan. “In the Garden are several ancient statues and sarcophagi”, we are told. Just two are singled out: “On one of these latter (near the wall) a battle is represented. The satyr bearing his son’s skin, is attributed to Michelangelo.” The origins of this macabre notion are unclear.

Like Burckhardt, Theodor Schreiber in his 1880 catalogue of ancient sculptures in the Villa Ludovisi was unwilling to accept this Pan’s attribution to the master, although he interpreted the sculpture he found in the aedicula against the wall as “Michelangelesque” (“Michelangelesken Pan” or “Michelangelesken Satyr”) and so admits the stylistic resemblances between Michelangelo’s works of art and the Pan. Schreiber gives no reason for his conclusion. Though he discusses with great authority what lid originally went on the sarcophagus in the original “niche”, he says nothing about the Medusa head set into the pediment of the aedicula (confirmed by the 1885 photos). That may suggest Schreiber thought the relief was modern.

The alleged substitution of the Ludovisi Satiro Versante for the Ludovisi Pan

In my Part II, I have already discussed a consequential mistake on the part of Boncompagni Ludovisi family archivist Giuseppe Felici in his understanding of the placement of the Pan. In his 1952 Villa Ludovisi in Roma, Felici argued that it was the ‘Satiro versante’ (= Pouring Satyr, MNR inv. 8597) that gave the name to the “Viale del Satiro”, and only at a late stage was switched with the Ludovisi Pan. Beatrice Palma (1985) followed Felici in this, and introduced a further error by ignoring the sarcophagus on four columns, thinking that the aedicula was always there (see especially Palma I 4 p. 211; also p. 84 on 1641, p. 125 on 1720-1730, and p. 132 on 1733). Moreover, even though 1633 and 1733 inventory records marked the Ludovisi Pan at the niche against the wall, Felici believed that it was the “Pouring Satyr” in the niche until the early 19th century.

Stereoscopic image (ca. 1859) by the Naples firm of Grillet of the “Satiro Versante”(Schreiber no. 71) as it was exhibited in Sala II of the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi in the Villa Ludovisi. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Felici’s mistake does not need extensive refutation: the Vernet drawing from 1737 (which he did not know) shows the Ludovisi Pan in the niche, and the Baltard and Lebas drawings make it clear that there is a female sculpture in a newly-built aedicula between 1800 and 1806. No image shows the Satiro Versante in a garden setting. Considering all the findings presented here from the inventories of the Villa Ludovisi, from artists’ and architects’ renderings, and various guidebooks, we can soundly reject Felici’s claim that the Satiro Versante was originally placed against the wall in the niche. Palma herself (I 4 p. 53) informs us in 1665 the Satiro Versante was recorded indoors, in the Casino dell’Aurora, in the “Room of the Clock” (Stanza dell’ Orologio).

In truth, the fact that Felici found the Ludovisi Pan as of “a repugnant and obscene appearance” (… d’aspetto ripugnante ed osceno…) seems to have affected his usually solid academic judgment. Yet Felici’s criticisms of the appearance of the Ludovisi Pan misled not only himself but also subsequent experts about the placement of the statue, and the source of the name of the “Viale”. Moreover, Felici’s strong reaction to the Ludovisi Pan also negatively impacted his overall interpretation and the later reception of Ludovisi Pan.

Felici does usefully provide for us the exact terminal date of the move of the Ludovisi Pan to its present location, its fourth, outside the southwest wing of Casino dell’Aurora: 20 February 1901. Felici notes that “today [i.e., in 1952] ‘il satiro Michelangelosco’ is exhibited in the garden around the Casino dell’Aurora, where this statue was transported just ahead of 20 February 1901.” Interestingly, Felici himself admits the stylistic similarities with Michelangelo. Nevertheless, at some point in the latter half of the 20th century, a tree was grown by the Boncompagni Ludovisi in front of the statue, evidently because of the embarrassment to the owners. Fortunately, in 2008 or 2009 this tree was removed by Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, and in 2011 the statue was cleaned.

Left: detail of the Ludovisi Pan, October 2022. Photo: T. Corey Brennan. Right: Ludovisi Pan in 1986. Photo: Maria Elisa Micheli, in Palma MNR I 6 (1986).

Other than Felici’s 1952 polemic against the Pan, a two-page 1986 contribution (to Palma, Museo Nazionale Romano: Le Sculture I 6) remains the only scholarly discussion of the statue since the dissolution of the Villa Ludovisi in 1885. In the Palma volume, Maria Elisa Micheli merely describes the statue as a modern work and touches very simply on the attribution to Michelangelo. Micheli’s photos of the statue however are of extreme value. The resemblance between the depiction of the pointed ears of the Pan captured in Micheli’s photos and the pointed ears of Michelangelo’s satyr compared to his Bacchus is remarkable. However, when comparing Micheli’s 1986 photos with my 2022 photos of the Ludovisi Pan in the garden of the Casino dell’Aurora, unfortunately, one can detect marked deterioration in the face of the statue over the past four decades. It can be seen that the right side of the forked beard has been divided into two, and a huge gap is now formed in the middle, noticably losing its old form.

The tree trunks of the Ludovisi Pan and Michelangelo’s David

As my last point, we now turn our focus to the tree trunk depicted to support the statue. When comparing the David’s tree trunk with the Pan, the placement of the right leg in front of the tree trunk looks very different. We can see that the David’s right leg is perfectly settled at the front of a tree trunk. In contrast, the Pan’s tree trunk stands like a column to support the statue. Presumably, Pan’s goat-like legs caused its different placement. Two other reasons for depicting the large tree trunk with the Pan: firstly, to emphasize the rustic nature of the Pan, and secondly, to show inspiration from antique models, especially considering the depiction of ancient statues with large tree trunks.

Left: detail of tree trunk of Michelangelo’s David. Right: detail of tree trunk of the Ludovisi Pan. Photos by the author.

It is also important to bear in mind that ancient satyr sculptures were usually depicted in a sitting position. In marble statues, it is surely very hard to maintain the balance of the whole body with goat-like legs, because the lower part of the legs is very thin when compared to the upper part. As an example, the Della Valle Satyrs have a large rectangular supporting platform to support the whole statue from the back, from bottom to top.

Of course, overall size also makes a big difference. When comparing the David’s colossal body with the tree trunk, the latter seems quite small, and realistically shaped—indeed almost real. The Pan’s tree trunk seems very rough, in fact unfinished, when compared to its detailed body. However, on closer examination, the forked branch at the top of the trunk of the David, with all pruned branches, is similar in idea to that of the Pan, though there the forked branch seems unfinished.  Significantly, we know from the drawings that so many details of this Pan have largely disappeared. Still, the chisel marks on the tree trunk are visible, and invite technical study.


The visual and documentary evidence presented in the three parts of my article defends the traditional attribution of the Ludovisi Pan to Michelangelo. As visual evidence, we have demonstrated that two of the master’s drawings—the Dream and the Frankfurt sheet—show strong stylistic similarities with the Pan, especially in the facial depictions. These two drawings should be accepted as visual evidence supporting attribution to the master.

Regarding the acceptance and attribution of Ludovisi Pan to Michelangelo, my research has furthermore revealed important reactions from many French, Italian, and German artists and writers of guidebooks, from the 17th century to the late 19th century. No authority seems to have identified this Pan by Michelangelo until 1775. Despite positive reactions to the Pan and general acceptance of Michelangelo as its sculptor in the 19th century, Burckhardt followed by Schreiber were resistant, without offering a rationale. It is fair to state that their interpretations negatively affected the work’s later acceptance. More generally, the lack of a satisfactory published public image of the statue and the failure to produce a cast of this Pan to be created and exported formed essential problems for its acceptance.

Here in Part III, the main reason I have focused in such detail on Pan’s journey (its placement and treatment) is to demonstrate how this statue’s display directly affected its reception. The inventory records of the Villa Ludovisi which I presented in Part II, and the maps and numerous guidebooks from the 16th and 17th centuries discussed in Part III, show that the Ludovisi Pan was displayed in four different locations and conditions. The original location of this statue was against the city wall. Even though many guidebooks describe this statue at its first location, until 1775 they did not identify this statue as Michelangelo’s work, and when they do—first in a dictionary—we could not provide the name of the author who identified the Pan as Michelangelo’s work.

Then Magnan (1779) accepts this statue as Michelangelo’s work and describes this statue at its second location, at the Labyrinth. For a few decades at the end of the 18th century it indeed seems to have been relocated, but only to protect it from a crumbling wall and to allow a more protective covering to be built. By the early nineteenth century, we see the Pan restored to its original place against the wall.

As seen in all the inventory records, visual evidence, and guidebooks, we can say that it was placed in a very dignified position and formed one of the main focal points of the entire garden. Felici’s attempt to posit the Satiro Versante at the aedicula while ignoring Pan, offering (uncharacteristically) misleading information, shows the importance of this location for placement of a statue. Practically alone of the sculptures in the gardens it received a fence in the 19th century, and alone of all the statues it had its own heater. This statue has been located in the garden of the Casino dell’Aurora since 1901. Yet the fact that the statue was then deliberately hidden behind a tree highlights the nature of its reception in the late 20th century and the very beginning of the 21st century.

Furthermore, this study exposed how this statue has lost so much detail standing outside for at least four hundred years, in the last ca. 125 of which it has been unprotected. Representations of the Ludovisi Pan by 18th-century artists—particularly the very detailed 1723 depiction by artist Hamlet Winstanley that we closely discussed in Part II—as well as historical photos from 1885 have revealed these disappeared anatomical details. When comparing the Pan’s present state to its former condition, it is clear that this particular statue has suffered an unfortunate loss of detail, especially in the face and beard and the anatomical features such as the depiction of veins in his left arm.

Another major factor affecting the reception of this Pan statute is its problematic subject as a Greek god with an erect phallus. That not only negatively affected its exhibition and its reputation, but also delayed its attribution to Michelangelo, as guidebooks shows. For this reason, this statue early on (certainly by 1737) gained a fig leaf, a feature still visible in the 1885 photos.

This tragic scenario is evocative of the story of the cast of Michelangelo’s David in London. In 1857, the Grand Duke of Tuscany commissioned a cast of the David to present to Queen Victoria. The Queen gave this statue to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) because of embarrassment. Whenever the Queen visited the sculpture, they covered his genitalia with this leaf. This fig leaf is now exhibited separately in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

It is important to note that eighteenth-century depictions of this Pan by Winstanley, Canova, Batoni, and Ciferri show the statue without a fig leaf. We can assume that these artists were able to move this leaf for drawing; the depiction of the hole on the genitalia in Canova’s 1780 drawing provides evidence for this claim. Indeed, its subject matter caused artists and scholars to fail to attribute this statue to Michelangelo consistently until the mid-nineteenth century, which in turn affected its later reception. 

Moreover, this statue, which eventually was hidden behind a tree in the late twentieth century due to its problematic subject, was abandoned to its fate, unprotected—despite the efforts of Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2010 to move it inside the Casino dell’Aurora, for which permission was denied by the relevant authorities. Its display in the garden has caused many details to be lost and influenced the few modern scholars who have seen the sculpture to undervalue it.  

Even though this study, which examines the Ludovisi Pan in terms of representation, style, position and display, has brought to light much forgotten or ignored scholarly recognition showing this statue as Michelangelo’s work, it is not yet complete. We need to explore further to uncover unresolved issues, most urgently, the ultimate origin of this statue. A new investigation for Part IV will turn our focus to the Orsini archive and its sculpture collection, to investigate the possibility that the Pan came to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi as a result of his purchase of the Orsini vigna with its Palazzo Grande and large obelisk in 1622.

A second aim will be to identify the female sculpture temporarily placed in the Pan’s aedicula in the late 18th century (as Baltard shows us), and also find the location of the Pan during that time. Ultimately, of course, a scientific analysis of the Pan’s marble and a technical study of the sculpture’s carving techniques are highly desirable, and will surely give us more information.

I conclude Part III of our deep investigation of the Ludovisi Pan with an important question to consider about this statue. How does a sculpture attributed to Michelangelo for 100 years deserve this unacceptable treatment today? Fortunately we still can stylistically compare this sculpture with works of art by Michelangelo, and reveal a great deal of correspondence. That means we still have details to preserve. The time is now to act and make a change, to conserve this once highly-regarded sculpture.

Hatice Köroğlu Çam is a 2022 graduate of Rutgers University, with a degree in Art History, and has been researching the statue of Pan under the direction of Professor T. Corey Brennan since January 2022. Hatice plans to pursue her academic journey towards a Ph.D., including further research into this Pan project. She expresses her sincerest gratitude to Professor Brennan for introducing her to this statue and encouraging her throughout the process of this research, for providing to her numerous guidebooks, his translation of all Italian documents, and his significant contributions, interpretations, guidance, and support. She extends a special thanks to HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for her wonderful encouragement and inspiration for this project.

HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, CBS Sunday Morning host Mo Rocca, and a pixelated (by CBS) ‘Pan’ for a televised segment on the Casino dell’Aurora that aired 16 April 2017.

NEW from 1775-1787: A revealing exchange of New Year’s greetings by Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette with Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi

By Defne Akçakayalıoğlu (St Andrew’s School ’23)

Letter (detail) from Marie Antoinette to Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi 12 December 1775, congratulating him on his recent appointment as Cardinal. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Letter (detail) from Marie Antoinette to Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi 12 December 1775, congratulating him on his recent appointment as Cardinal. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

In summer 2010, HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi discovered hidden within a large trunk in a storage area of the Casino dell’Aurora some of the most valuable documents of the private Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi, most of which in 1947 was given to the Vatican Apostolic Archive. At the top of the trunk’s contents were 13 letters of French king Louis XVI (1754-1793) and 12 of queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), none previously known, spanning the years 1775 to 1787.

The French monarchs came to the throne on 10 May 1774, and so the series starts in the second year of their reign. All are addressed to Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1743-1790), who was created a Cardinal by Pope Pius VI in 1775, and then Vatican Secretary of State on 29 June 1785. Cardinal Ignazio held the latter post for four years before he had to step down in September 1789 because of poor health. He moved to the healing center of Bagni di Lucca, famous for its thermal baths, where he died in August 1790, aged just 47.

Funerary monument of Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, recording his career and untimely death at Bagni di Lucca in 1790, aged 47. Set up in 1791 by his elder sister Marianna at the church of St Ignazio, Rome. Photo: T.C. Brennan

Of the 25 recovered letters from Louis XVI (1754-1793) and Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), the first two, each from 1775, congratulate Ignazio on his election as Cardinal. In the rest of the letters, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette thank Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi for New Year’s wishes that he had sent them. They always write from their palace at Versailles, and address him as “Mon Cousin”, because of his status as a prince, not because of actual family ties.

The timing of the letters raises interesting speculations. The 1775 letters are both dated 12 December 1775, which is almost exactly one month after Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi’s appointment as Cardinal on 13 November 1775. The lateness with which Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette chose to congratulate him may display their lack of immediate concern for the Cardinal, who in fact may have initiated the correspondence. It seems that they are writing out of formality and the structure of social expectations rather than any genuine excitement about his appointment. The archive at the Casino dell’Aurora contains another letter of congratulation to the Cardinal on his appointment, from Marie Antoinette’s mother, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. That is dated 7 December 1775.

Medal commemorating the marriage of the future Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette on 16 May 1770. Credit: Jean Elsen & ses Fils S.A., Auction 124, Lot 1849, 14 March 2015.

As noted, each of the letters from the French royals that date between 1776 and 1787 are acknowledgements of New Year’s wishes, responding to the Cardinal’s original letter. New Year’s was one of the most important days of the year in the French court of the time, and was the occasion for the exchange of gifts, rather than Christmas. The fact that the Cardinal was the first to write in all twelve years again shows how the royal family was not much concerned with being overly deferential to the Cardinal. Rather, they perhaps expected him to write first.

This is reiterated by the dates on the letters. Every letter from Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in the years 1776 through 1786 was written on the 31st of January, with one exception: in 1779 Marie Antoinette writes on 30 January. To send someone New Year’s wishes, and particularly to respond to previously-sent New Year’s regards, the end of January would be the last socially acceptable date to respond, as the new year is well underway by February. This appears to demonstrate that, for the French royals, the Cardinal was of less significance to them compared to others with whom they had personal ties, who must have received letters much earlier, or maybe even received an initiating letter as opposed to a response to a letter.

Letter (detail) from Marie Antoinette to Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi 31 January 1787, noting that he had rushed his traditional New Year’s greetings. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

From this, it can be inferred that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette considered their social and political position far enough above the Cardinal to warrant such a late response, fearing no negative repercussions. In fact, the royals may have allotted the last day of January to write all such routine letters to Cardinals. A recently auctioned letter from 1791 addressed by Marie Antoinette to Cardinal Stefano Borgia (1731-1789-1804) is very close in content to the impersonal letters in the Boncompagni Ludovisi collection, and is similarly dated to the 31st of January of that year.

Etching by Angelo Campanella of Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1743-1775-1790). Credit: Creative Commons.

Because of this social hierarchy, Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi wrote his New Year’s letters relatively early. Louis XVI mentions in four letters from four different years (1777, 1779, 1780, and 1783) that the Cardinal’s letter was dated the 25th of November of the previous year. It may be assumed that the Cardinal would write to both king and queen on the same date, although Marie Antoinette never specifically mentions this in her letters. Ergo, it may be inferred that, for the Cardinal, the royal family was of considerable significance given how early he chose to send them letters, even though he, by the third of fourth year of correspondence, could certainly expect their late responses.

Interestingly, we can tell from Louis XVI’s 1787 letter of response that in the previous year, Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi wrote even earlier—on the 22nd of November 1786 now under his new title as Vatican Secretary of State. It is possible that, due to his heightened position, he was awaiting an earlier response from the royal family. Unfortunately for him, this was not the case.

Not only do the king and queen again respond late, but Marie Antoinette actually questions him for his quickness: “you seem to be in a rush.” In the same year, Louis XVI responds not on the final day of January, but on the final day of February.

Letter (detail) from Louis XVI to Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi 28 February 1787, sent a full month later than any other letter in the long series of New Year’s greetings between monarchs and cardinal. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Following the 1787 exchange, there are no further letters in the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovii between Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and the Cardinal. This may suggest that the French royal family was pushing the Cardinal out of their social circle, perhaps for being too pushy with his new position. In any case, the thirteen year series of letters 1775-1787 reveals a previously unknown connection between the French court of Louis XVI and this important Cardinal, and also sheds fascinating light on the official personalities of the monarchs.

Melis Akçakayalıoğlu and I have transcribed below, with translation, the 1786 and 1787 letters from king and queen to the Cardinal which end the long series of their correspondence:


Vous ne pouvez douter que je ne reçoive votre sentiment à l’occasion de la nouvelle année avec autant de satisfaction que j’en ai à me persuader que votre attachement à ma personne est une suite de/du sentiment que vous avez toujours eu pour moi. Je saisirai avec plaisir l’occasion de vous en témoigner ma sensibilité en vous (donnant) la marque de ma bienveillance. Sur ce je prie Dieu qu’il vous ait, Mon Cousin, en sa Sainte digne grâce. Écrit à Versailles le 31 Janvier 1786

Do not doubt that I received your sentiment for the new year with the same satisfaction that I have when I convince myself that the attachment you have for me is the continuation of feelings you always had for me. I would gladly seize the opportunity  to show you my affection by giving you tokens of my kindness.  Thereupon I pray God has you, my Cousin, in his holy worthy grace. Written at Versailles on the 31st of January 1786. Marie Antoinette. [Countersigned by her secretary Nicolas-Joseph Beaugeard]


Mon cousin, les vœux que vous formez pour moi à l’occasion du renouvellement de l’ année me flattent autant que le sentiment que vous me témoignez pour ma satisfaction et ma prospérité. Je suis aussi persuadé de leur sincérité que vous devez l’être du désir que j’ai de vous faire ressentir les effets de mon estime et de mon affection. Sur ce je prie Dieu qu’il vous ait, Mon Cousin, en sa sainte digne grâce. Écrit à Versailles le 31 Janvier 1786

My cousin, the wishes you wrote to me for the renewal of the year are very flattering, as well as the feelings that you show for my wellness and prosperity. I am convinced of their sincerity as much as you should be convinced of my wish to make you feel my affection and the high esteem. Thereupon I pray God that he has you in his holy worthy grace.  Written at Versailles on the 31st of January 1786. Louis. [Countersigned by his secretary Charles Gravier de Vergennes]


Mon cousin, votre empressement à me faire parvenir les vœux que vous formez pour moi à l’occasion de la nouvelle année ne me permet pas de douter de la sincérité de votre attachement à ma personne. Je désire bien véritablement de trouver l’occasion de vous en témoigner ma sensibilité en vous donnant des preuves de ma bienveillance. Sur ce je prie Dieu qu’il vous ait, mon cousin, en sa sainte et digne grâce. Ecrit à Versailles le 31 Janvier 1787

My Cousin, the rush you are in to send me good wishes for the new year do not allow me to doubt your sincere attachment towards me. I truly wish to find the opportunity to show you my affection by giving you tokens of my kindness. Thereupon I pray God that he has you in his holy worthy grace. Written at Versailles on the 31st of January 1787. Marie Antoinette. [Countersigned by her secretary Nicolas-Joseph Beaugeard]


Mon Cousin, J’ai reçu la lettre que vous m’avez écrite le 22 Novembre (dernier) j’y vois avec plaisir la sincérité de vos sentiments pour moi et les vœux que vous formez pour ma personne à l’occasion du renouvellement de l’année. Je vous en sais gré (et) vous devez compter sur les assurances que je vous donne bien volontier de ma parfaite estime et de mon affection particulière. Sur ce je prie Dieu qu’il vous ait, Mon Cousin, en sa sainte digne grâce. Écrit à Versailles le 28 Février 1787

My cousin, I received the letter that you wrote to me on the (last) 22nd of November, I see with pleasure the sincerity of your feelings for me and the wishes you formulated for my person upon the renewal of the year. I am grateful for you and you should count on the proofs that I gladly give you of my unique affection and the perfect esteem I hold you in. Thereupon, I pray God that he has you, My Cousin, in his holy worthy grace. Written at Versailles on the 28th of February 1787. Louis. [Countersigned by his secretary Count Armand Marc de Montmorin]

Defne Akçakayalıoğlu, a native of Istanbul, is a senior at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton FL where she is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program. In summer 2022 she was a member of the internship program of the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi. She thanks Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for the opportunity to study the materials in the Casino dell’Aurora archive, as well as Professor T. Corey Brennan (Rutgers University) for his guidance in the internship and suggestions on this article, which he made in consultation with Professor Catriona Seth (Oxford University), though emphasizing that she is not responsible for the views offered here.

Letter (detail of address) from Marie Antoinette to Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, 31 January 1780. All the letters in the 1775-1787 series in the Casino dell’Aurora archive still preserve their original seals as here. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The legacy of a Princess: (Re)Discovering Laura Chigi (1707-1792) through two unpublished contemporary obituaries

By Erin Rizzetto (Kutztown University ’22)

Portrait (detail) of Laura Chigi Albani della Rovere in the Casino dell’Aurora. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

One of the most extraordinary holdings of the Boncompagni Ludovisi archive in the Casino dell’Aurora, rediscovered by HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2010, is a formal diary maintained by the heads of family—dating back in continuous succession to Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612), the son of Pope Gregory XIII. For centuries, this diary served principally to memorialize the family’s births, marriages and deaths. But starting in the later 19th century it expanded its scope to take in more personal reflections.

One important entry was written in 1792 by the then head of family, Antonio (II) Boncompagni Ludovisi (1735-1805), son of Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi (1706-1777, Prince of Piombino from 1745). It is a somber memoir in honor of his late mother, Laura Chigi Albani della Rovere (1707-1792), the grandniece of Pope Alexander VII Chigi (reigned 1655-1667).

Obituary notice (1792) of Laura Chigi by her son Antonio (II) Boncompagni Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

The entry reads as follows (Italian text and English translation):

A 9 Octobre 1792 D(onna) Laura Chigi Principessa di Piombino vedova di D(on) Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi Principe di Piombino nata in Roma l’anno 1707 ai 20 di Ottobre da D(on) Augusto Principe Chigi e da (D(onna) Maria Eleonora Rospigliosi munita di tutti li sagramenti di S(anta) Chiesa verso le hore ventidue rese il suo Spirito al Creatore nel Palazzo di sua Residenza alla Pilotta. La sera degli undieci con treno di carozze fù trasporto il cadavere alla chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Maria sita nella Piazza della Colonna Traiana della quale era stata insigne Benefattrice in vita, et ivi celebrate solenni esequie il dì seguente restò sepolta vicino le ceneri del Principe suo marito defonto quindici anni prima.

“On the 9th of October 1792 Donna Laura Chigi Princess of Piombino, widow of Don Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino, born in Rome in the year 1707 on the 20th of October to Don Augusto, Prince Chigi, and Donna Maria Eleonora Rospigliosi, equipped with all the sacraments of the holy Church, around 10 PM gave her Spirit to the Creator, in the palace of her residence at the Pilotta. The evening of the 11th [of October], with a procession of carriages, her body was transported to the Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary located in the Piazza of the Column of Trajan, of which she had been the distinguished Benefactress in life, and there her solemn funeral was celebrated. The following day she was buried near the ashes of the Prince, her husband who had died fifteen years earlier.”

Despite her long life, which reached its 84th year, and many formal documents (most in the Boncompagni Ludovisi collection in the Vatican Apostolic Archive), little is known about the personal aspects of this Princess of Piombino except the bare facts. Pio Pecchiai in his 1946 biography of her husband (Notizie biographiche di Don Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi, VII Duca di Sora — II Principe di Piombino [1706-1777]) pays Laura Chigi scant notice after her wedding at age 19. However even from this succinct obituary notice by her son, her legacy as a matriarch lives on as a dignified woman whose primary roles included that of beloved wife to her husband Gaetano, compassionate mother, and benevolent benefactor of the church.

Photograph (early 20th century) of portrait of Laura Chigi, still found today in Casino dell’Aurora. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

As it happens, at the time of Laura’s death the Boncompagni Ludovisi family maintained a second book of obituaries, with the long title Memorie genealogiche della Famiglia Boncompagni, con alcuni cenni della sua origine, e quindi unita alla Famiglia Ludovisi, fino alla generazione di D. Luigi Boncompagni Ludovisi, Principe di Piombino che morì il giorno 9 maggio 1841. The work stretches over some 330 pages, and takes in most major family members from the creation of Giacomo Boncompagni (born 1548) as the first Duke of Sora to the birth of the historian of science Baldassare Boncompagni Ludovisi  in 1821.

Vellum cover of biographies of members of the Boncompagni and Boncompagni Ludovisi families, compiled mainly in the latter 18th century by family archivist Carlo Somasca. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

The main author of the book, we are told on the volume’s vellum cover, was longtime family archivist Carlo Rosa alias Somasca, who served the Boncompagni Ludovisi from ca. 1760 until ca. 1795. In any case, after his death in 1800, the notices become much more succinct. The fact that the obituary of Laura Chigi in this book was written soon after her death—assumedly by her contemporary Somasca—lends special value to this notice, which adds much more detail and color to what has been previously known. Here is the entry (again, Italian text and English translation):

D. Laura Chigi Duchessa di Sora e Principessa di Piombino

Da D. Augusto Chigi Principe di Farnese Marescialle della Santa Sede al conclave e nepote di Alessandro Papa VII, ed a D. Maria Elenora Rospigliosi nepote di Clemente Papa IX ebbe il natale in Roma D. Laura li 20 Ottobre dell’ anno 1707 nel suo Palazzo sito in Piazza Colonna. Educata appresso li genitori e giunta all’anno decimo nono di sua età fù data e sposa a Don Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi, Duca l’Arce et il matrimonio segui nel Feudo Paterno dell’Ariccia vicino alla città di Albano li 7 novembre dell’anno 1726.

Terminate le feste nunziali passò col marito allo stato di Sora e nella Residenza dell’Isola fu accolta con dimostrazioni di giubilo dai Parenti di lui e numeroso vassallaggio per restituirsi novamente in Roma, ove felicemente diede alla luce il primo suo parto l’anno 1728. Divenuta Duchessa di Sora andò l’anno 1734 a risiedere nella Città dell’Aquila nella quale il Duca d. Gaetano in nome di D. Carlo Borbone infante di Spagna conquistato il Regno di Napoli esercitava il vicariato Generale de sopra tutta la Provincia dell’ Abbruzzo.

All’arrivo in Napoli della Regina Amalia di Sassonia fù dichiarata dama di Corte l’anno 1738. Dimorò alcuni anni in quella Capitale dalla quale si restituì in Roma l’anno 1745, e dopo le seconda legazione straordinaria del Principe Don Gaetano alla Corte di Madrid ebbe il contento di stabilmente ricuperarlo l’anno 1747. Amara fù la perdita che ne fece l’anno 1777…

[crossed out] Vive ancora questa Signora in età di ottanta e più anni nel corso de quali ha dovuto soffrire come suole accadere a chi vive longamente la mancanza di molti congiunti, e sopra tutta quella inaspettata del figlio Cardinale Don Ignazio morto a Bagni di Lucca li 9 Agosto dell’ anno 1790

…e la pianse quindieci anni che tanti furono quelli della sua vedovanza impiegata in un perfetto ritiro e nell’esercizio di un condotta veramente Cristiana.

Durante questo tempo ebbe a soffrire la mancaza di molti stretti suoi congiunti, ma sopratutto la colpì quella del Cardinale Ignazio suo figlio in fresca età perito l’anno 1790 nel soggiorno dei Bagni di Lucca ove si era trasferito da Roma per sperimentare il beneficio di quelle acque minerali.

Oppressa più dal peso degli anni, che da una cagionevole salute munita di tutti li Sagramenti di Santa Chiesa soccombere li 9 ottobre dell’ anno 1790. La sera degli undici fù trasportato il cadavere alla chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Maria della quale in vita era stata insigne Benefattore e quivi celebrate solenni esequie resto sepolto presso le ceneri del defonto suo marito.

L’anno sequente 1793 Donna Ippolita Principessa Rezzonico di lei figlia p(er) impulso di affetto verso de suoi Genitori e per riflesso di Religione determinatasi di unire nello stesso luogo la sua spoglia mortale quando fosse piacciuto al S(ua) D(ivina) M(aiestà) chiamarla a se, surrogò all’antica iscrizione che si leggeva fatta porre dopo la morte del padre la sequente epigrafe

Memoriae / Gaetani Boncompagni et Laurae Chigiae / Parent(ibus) Opt(imis) / Hyppolita Rezzonica / Ossa Ossibus hic Sociare Cupiens / C(um) V(ixisset) P(ietatis) C(ausa) / Anno Reparat(ae) Sal(utis) / MDCCXIII

Biography of Laura Chigi by Carlo Somasca, written in or shortly after 1793. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

“D. Laura Chigi Duchess of Sora and Princess of Piombino

(To) D. Augusto Chigi, Prince of Farnese, Marshal to the Conclave of the Holy See, and nephew of Pope Alexander VII, and to D. Maria Elenora Rospigliosi, niece of Clement Pope IX, she was born in Rome on 20 October 1707 in their Palace Located in Piazza Colonna. Educated by her parents, at nineteen years of age, she was joined in  marriage to Don Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi, Duca of Arce. The wedding followed in her paternal Feud of Ariccia near the city of Albano on 7 November of the year 1726.

After the wedding celebrations, she passed with her husband to the state of Sora and in the Residence of the Isola [del Liri] she was greeted with demonstrations of jubilation by his parents and a numerous collection of vassals to return to Rome again, where she happily gave birth to her first child in the year 1728. Having become Duchess of Sora, she went in 1734 to reside in the city of L’Aquila in which the Duke Don Gaetano in the name of Don Carlo of Bourbon, Infant of Spain who had won the Kingdom of Naples, exercised the General Vicariate over all the Province of Abruzzo.

Upon the arrival in Naples of Queen Amalia of Saxony, she was declared a Lady of the Court in the year 1738. She resided for a few years in that capital from which she returned to Rome in the year 1745, and after the second extraordinary legation of Prince Don Gaetano to the Court of Madrid had the pleasure of receiving him back in the year 1747. Bitter was the loss that she experienced in the year 1777…

[crossed out] This lady still lived to the age of more than eighty years, in the course of which she had to suffer, as usually happens to those who live a long time, that is the loss of many relatives, and above all the unexpected one of her son Cardinal Don Ignazio, who died at Bagni di Lucca on August 9th of the year 1790

…and she bewailed [the loss] for the fifteen years that constituted her widowhood, spent in a perfect retirement and in the exercise of a truly Christian conduct.

During this time she had to suffer the loss of many close relatives, but above all she was struck by that of Cardinal Ignazio, her son, at a premature age who perished in the year 1790 during a sojourn at the Bagni di Lucca, where he had travelled from Rome to experience the benefit of those mineral waters.

Oppressed more by the weight of the years, than by poor health, equipped with all the Sacraments of the Holy Church, she succumbed on October 9 of the year 1790. On the evening of the 11th (of October) her corpse was transported to the church of the Most Holy Name of Mary of which she had been an outstanding distinguished Benefactor, and there, once the solemn funeral rites were celebrated, she was buried near the ashes of her departed husband.

The following year, 1793, Donna Ippolita Principessa Rezzonico her daughter, impelled by affection towards her parents and as a reflection of religion, having  decided to unite in the same place her mortal remains when it was pleasing to His Divine Majesty to call her to himself, she put in place, instead of the old inscription that one read made after the death of her father, the following epigraph:

To Gaetano Boncompagni and Laura Chigi / Best of parents / Ippolita Rezzonico / Wishing here to join (her) bones to (their) bones / When she has died, out of devotion / In the year of salvation accomplished / 1793”

Excerpt from testament of Laura Chigi, 1780; among her legacies is an ornate ashtray (see page at left, lines 2-6). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Between these two death notices, one written by her son and the other by a long-serving family archivist, we have the outlines of a biography. Laura Chigi Albani della Rovere was born in Rome on 20 October 1707, to Augusto Chigi della Rovere (1662-1744), Prince of Farnese, and Eleonora Rospigliosi (1682-1734). Laura married Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi, the son of Antonio I (1658-1731) and Eleonora Boncompagni Ludovisi (1686-1745, her husband’s niece), on 7 November 1726 in Ariccia (where the Chigi family palace still stands), 25 km southeast of Rome. The couple resided in Rome at the Casino Florenzi a Magnanapoli before the birth of a daughter, Maria Teresa, who died in 1729 aged not quite fifteen months. In all, the couple would have eight children together, four dying in infancy.

Baptism certificate (16 November 1728) from the SS XII Apostoli church of the short-lived first child of Gaetano and Laura Chigi Boncompagni Ludovisi, a daughter Maria Teresa (16 March 1728-29 July 1729). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

In 1734, after the elevation of Eleonora Boncompagni Ludovisi to Princess of Piombino, Gaetano and Laura received the title Duke and Duchess of Sora. Soon Gaetano received charge of the city of L’Aquila, newly annexed by the Kingdom of Naples, which he administered for about a year as representative of the future Charles III of Spain (= Charles VII of Naples and Charles V of Sicily, reigning from 1734).

An official diary found in the Casino dell’Aurora archive documents Laura’s travel from the 12th to the 15th of July 1734, when she traveled from Sora in southern Lazio to L’Aquila in Abruzzo to join her husband. As Ruth Tucker (Rutgers ’22) has shown in a 2021 Rutgers University Aresty Research Project, “on the 110 kilometer journey, which saw lavish entertainments at each stop, she was accompanied by a military escort of almost four dozen men, including attendants who carried two chairs and two beds for her use”. During this tenure at L’Aquila, Antonio, their first-born son, arrived on 16 June 1735.

Selection from “diary” by unknown author of Laura Chigi’s journey from Isola del Liri to L’Aquila, 12-15 July 1734. The route, traced by Ruth Tucker (Rutgers ’22), was Isola del Liri > Balsorano > Capistrello > Avezzano > Celano > L’Aquila. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

These obituaries are understandably concerned with Laura Chigi’s titles. Upon arrival in Naples of Amalia of Saxony (1724-1760), the wife of the future Charles III of Spain, in February 1738 Chigi was declared a Lady of the Court; Amalia reigned as Queen of Naples and Sicily from June 1738 to June 1759, and then for about 13 months as Queen Consort of Spain. In 1745, Gaetano succeeded his mother Eleonora, and became Prince of Piombino, awarding Laura the title of Princess of Piombino. On 24 May 1777, her beloved husband passed away at the age of 70 years old in Rome.

On 12 February 1738 the 13 year old Amalia of Saxony (1724-1760), soon (19 June 1738) to be crowned Queen of Naples and Sicily, appoints the Duchess of Sora Laura Chigi as an honorary Lady of her court. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

During this time and up until her own death in 1792, Laura had suffered from the losses of many close relatives, but we learn that none had seemed to impact her quite as hard as the loss of her seventh child, her cherished son Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (born 1743). Ignazio was made Cardinal by Pope Pius VI in 1775 and had served as Vatican Secretary of State from 1785 until 1789. He passed away in 1790 in Bagni di Lucca, a city known for its healing mineral waters, where he had moved from Rome upon falling ill.

Inventory of jewels left to the Congregazione dell’Oratorio S Filippo Neri in Rome by Laura Chigi to adorn a new monstrance (i.e., vessel for the adoration of the Eucharistic host). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Laura Chigi Boncompagni Ludovisi herself passed away on 9 October 1792 at her residence at the Palazzo della Pilotta—a new fact that we learn from the head of family book—at the age of 84. (It was not known that the family still owned that palace.) The notice written by her son Antonio II emphasizes that she led a long, fulfilled life dedicated to her children, husband, and a strong devotion to the Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary at the Forum of Trajan. That is where her funeral was held, as we learn for the first time; she was buried next to her dear husband Gaetano.

Erin Rizzetto is a senior majoring in Art History at Kutztown University and a summer 2022 intern for the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi. She hopes to continue her research in art history with a focus on Early Modern Women artists during her graduate studies. She would like to thank HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for the honor of allowing access to her private archive. Erin would also like to express her sincerest gratitude to Dr. T. Corey Brennan for his continued guidance and encouragement throughout her research. Erin resides in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Portrait of Laura Chigi Albani della Rovere in the Casino dell’Aurora. The octogonal frame was created ca. 1890 for the gallery of portraits in the short-lived Palazzo Piombino on the Via Veneto (now the US Embassy in Rome). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

New light on the Villa Sora of the Boncompagni Ludovisi in Frascati

An illustrated essay by Isobel Ali (Rutgers ’22)

Detail from view of Frascati by Giacomo Lauro (1622), showing Villa Sora at lower right, published in Splendore dell’antica e moderna Roma (Rome: Andrea Fei, 1641). Credit: Artstor

Nestled in the Alban Hills of Lazio, less than twenty miles southeast of Rome, lies the inconspicuous city of Frascati. Though known by many as the namesake of the wine produced in this relatively small region, Frascati boasts a rich history that extends back to Republican Rome and beyond, and much of it remains tangible today. Take, for instance, the Istituto Salesiano Villa Sora.

Established by St John Bosco (1815-1888) in 1859, the Society of Saint Francis of Sales, now the Salesians of Don Bosco, is a religious congregation originally founded to aid impoverished children during the Industrial Revolution. Its initial school was created in 1845 in Torino, but the organization rapidly spread, establishing schools around the world. One of the best known locations the Salesians managed to acquire was the Villa Sora, one of the twelve famed Ville Tuscolane, in 1900.

View of Ville Tuscolane, looking north to south, in territory of Frascati, 1620 by M. Greuter. Credit: Luna Commons

Owing their collective name to their location in the shadow of Monte Tuscolo, this series of villas was built in the old Roman tradition of the landed aristocracy owning country estates that both marked their status and served as places of leisure away from Rome. Though they are spread across Frascati and neighboring Grottaferrata (to its south) and Monte Porzio Catone (to its northeast), these palatial estates unify the region and convey upon it a sense of old nobility, especially when considered in the context of the wider Castelli Romani region.

Overview of the Ville Tuscolane in the Castelli Romani. Credit: Regione Lazio

Indeed, the Alban Hills came to be known under this title for their castles and fortified towns, and though many are private, the properties remain a series of stunning examples of Renaissance and early modern architecture and landscape design. The Villa Sora, like the others, possesses an abundance of these historical attributes. What is more, its status as an operating secondary school allows for a unique opportunity at insight into its history.

Postcard (1960s) showing views of Villa Sora transformed into Salesian Institute. Collection T. C. Brennan

While many of these estates bear the family name of their owners—for example, the Ville Aldobrandini, Falconieri, and Torlonia (formerly a Ludovisi possession)—the Villa Sora bears a feudal name, that of the Duchy of Sora. This was a fairly small region in southeast Lazio that resembled a growth at the foot of the Papal States at the border with the Kingdom of Naples. Today the area stands near Lazio’s borders with Abruzzo, Molise, and Campania.

Italian states in 1789—but generally valid for the 18th century in general. Credit: Vivid Maps

The Duchy of Sora dealt with its fair share of instability. This was partly owed to its historical context: the Italian states of the Middle Ages were notoriously fraught with unrest. But a contributing factor was its ambiguous seat of power, considered to either be the Duke’s palace in the city of Sora, or the fortress at Isola del Liri, less than five miles to the south. In brief, the early history of Sora is one of struggling to gain autonomy and to resist the influence of the Kingdom of Naples, the Aragonese, and other powers vying for control in the medieval Italian states. As with the rest of the states, the Duchy of Sora’s story was often a bloodstained one, and those in power were frequently rotated out, especially in the late 15th century.

Despite fending off attacks like that of the Borgias in the early 16th century, the Duchy exchanged hands a few more times before finding a stable leading family, the Boncompagni of Bologna. In 1579 Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1502-1572-1585) bought the Duchy for 100,000 scudi and donated it to his son Giacomo (1548-1612)—the first of many major titles the Boncompagni would amass in the following centuries.

A word of explanation. Due in large part to his desire to moralize the Church—at least visibly—Pope Gregory XIII had chosen not to involve Giacomo in his political maneuvers. Despite legitimizing Giacomo as his son in 1548 (as well as 1552 and 1572), the Pope opted to pass property and money down to his son instead of political power, theoretically cutting down on the nepotism plaguing the church establishment, but still enabling the Boncompagni to build strength.

From Pompeo Litta, Famiglie celebri italiane II (1836). The images of Costanza Sforza and Giacomo Boncompagni reproduce their (1594) portraits by Lavinia Fontana

As it happens, Giacomo had no small career: he served as General of the Holy Roman Church in 1573 before being declared Captain General of the Spanish troops in the State of Milan by King Philip II of Spain in 1575; the latter appointment would create a burning loyalty of the Boncompagni to the Spanish that would last centuries. Following his marriage to Costanza Sforza in 1576, Giacomo was gifted all the Bolognese properties Pope Gregory XIII was holding, and the Pope compounded this by purchasing the Marquisate of Vignola in 1577.

When he purchased the Duchy of Sora in 1579, Pope Gregory XIII was clearly intent on making his son a leader, even if not for his own political gain. The later absorptions of Aquino and Arpino into the Duchy in 1583 were evidence of the continued growth of Boncompagni influence. At the time, all this may have seemed like a land grab by the Papal States. But the purchase of Sora proved to be a turning point for the fortunes of the city and its region, with Boncompagni rule lasting from 1580 through 1796, when the King of Naples Ferdinand IV forced Antonio II Boncompagni Ludovisi (1735-1805) to relinquish control.

Cover of M. B. Guerrieri Borsoi, Villa Sora a Frascati (Rome: Gangemi, 2000). The painting detail, from the Sala delle Muse in the Villa Sora, shows a dragon, symbol of the family of Giacomo Boncompagni, with elaborate garland supported by lions, symbol of the family of his wife Costanza Sforza. In this room the motif of lion on a garland supported by dragons also occurs.

As Maria Barbara Guerrieri Borsoi discusses in her essential 2000 work, Villa Sora a Frascati, the precise history of the Villa Sora itself is obscured, seemingly as the result of a series of misfortunes which had fallen upon the owners since its construction. What is known is that the land that would become the Villa Sora —on the Via Tuscolana as one approaches Frascati from Rome to the northwest—was originally owned ca. 1562 by one Angelo di Bernardo Floridi, in the form of a vineyard. Following his death, the property was left to what is now known as the Archconfraternity of the Gonfalone, an organization of penitents who observed rules set down by St Bonaventure.

View of Ville Tuscolane, with detail of Villa Sora, in territory of Frascati, 1620 by M. Greuter. Credit: Luna Commons

Not long after, the property was sold to a Giulio Morone for 1800 scudi. Through the generous financial aid of his uncle Cardinal Giovanni Morone (1509-1542-1580), Giulio was able to build up the estate, known at that time as the Villa Torricella, likely for its proximity to one of the small watchtowers that had long since been dotted across the area of Frascati. This would be the third of the Ville Tuscolane to be established, preceded only by the Villa Falconieri (previously the Villa Rufina) and the Villa Vecchia (occupied after 1552 by the Farnese).

No plans of the original Villa Torricella building survive, though it is clear it was much smaller than the modern Villa Sora. Despite this, the Villa Sora and its corresponding estate was one of the most significant villas in Frascati, and hosted Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni. It was still in construction in 1581, when Giulio Morone died, a year after his rich uncle Cardinal Morone. The property soon became a financial burden for the man’s children. Thus, Bartolomeo Morone, one of Giulio’s heirs, in 1600 sold the property to Giacomo Boncompagni, now Duke of Sora for a full two decades.

As was common practice—evidenced by some of the other Ville Tuscolane, not to mention the city of Rome itself—the Villa Sora was built on the bones of its predecessor. Indeed, Guerrieri Borsoi points out that the Morone family may have done the same in their attempts to construct the Villa Torricella. This theory cements both the mystique and longevity of the property.

Figurative plan, looking north to south, of the vineyards and thickets in the general area of the Villa Sora allocated by Gregorio Boncompagni
. From Antonio Giuliani, Registry (1691) of vineyards at the Villa Sora (Frascati). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome
Contemporary satellite view of the area of the ex-Villa Sora of the Boncompagni Ludovisi, looking north to south. Credit: Google Maps

Upon Pope Gregory XIII’s death in 1585, his son Giacomo Boncompagni left Rome, spending the majority of his time in the territory of Sora, especially at his magnificent castle at Isola del Liri. While he maintained positive relationships with the succeeding popes, his political influence waned and he eventually gave up his position as General of the Spanish troops to focus on his personal interests. Though his income had also decreased significantly since his father’s death, Giacomo still retained the wealth to serve as a patron to many various artists, composers and writers.

Giacomo Boncompagni also took a lively interest in Frascati, which is about 50 miles west of Sora, on a principal route to Rome. When he could no longer rely on the hospitality of the aristocratic families residing in the other Ville Tuscolane, he turned his attention to what would become his own property. So in 1600, Giacomo paid Bartolomeo Morone a mere 9000 scudi for the estate. From here on, the property would officially resign its name as La Torricella, and instead be known to most as the Villa Sora.

General view of Sala of the Muses, Villa Sora. Credit: M. B. Guerrieri Borsoi, Villa Sora a Frascati (Rome: Gangemi, 2000).

Guerrieri Borsoi rightly describes the focal point of the Villa Sora, its crown jewel, as the series of frescoes adorning the Sala of the Muses. A brief summary of her observations will be provided here, beginning with a clarification of the attribution of the works. Though previously credited as the works of Federico Zuccari (ca. 1540-1609), many subsequent studies by art historians have since determined the primary artist responsible to be Giuseppe Cesari (1568-1640), a Mannerist painter better known as the Cavalier d’Arpino and a mentor to the likes of Caravaggio and Guido Reni.

Guerrieri Borsoi goes on to compare Giuseppe Cesari’s works to those of his brother, Bernardino, before concluding that Giuseppe was undoubtedly the mastermind behind the decoration of the Sala of the Muses of the Villa Sora, potentially in collaboration with Cesare Rossetti (ca. 1565-ca. 1623), a landscape painter. Even without concrete knowledge of the parties responsible, though, the artistry of the frescoes is beyond dispute, and their subject matter is enough to occupy any viewer.

Wall above the entrance to the Sala delle Muse, Villa Sora, from left in the upper register: landscape with Mercury and Argus; Polyhymnia, the Muse of sacred poetry; landscape with Mercury and Syrinx. In the lower register, two unidentified portraits flank a lion, symbol of the Sforza family, resting on a garland supported by dragons. Credit (with identifications): M. B. Guerrieri Borsoi, Villa Sora a Frascati (Rome: Gangemi, 2000).

Organized into three registers, the uppermost depicts alternating images of landscapes and seated women; the second depicts garlands of fruit and flowers borne by cherubic figures, here alternating with busts of various male figures; the final register depicts a series of ten figures, alternating with the windows and doors around the hall. Throughout, various decorative elements adorn the walls, quite literally from floor to ceiling. At this point the room is, at the very least, overwhelming; the artistry exhibited in the frescoes entirely absorbs its viewer, surrounding them with larger-than-life figures and plunging them into scenic landscapes. The use of colors is dazzling and the strategic use of the trompe-l’œil imagery that was so characteristic of the Renaissance creates an environment that seems to move and breathe. That, however, is only half the story.

Detail from the Sala delle Muse of the Villa Sora: Urania, the Muse of Astronomy. Credit: M. B. Guerrieri Borsoi, Villa Sora a Frascati (Rome: Gangemi, 2000).

Upon a closer look at the Sala of the Muses of the Villa Sora, a rich world of symbolism begins to reveal itself in even the smallest details. The first images to draw the viewer’s attention are the female figures in the third register: these women, ten in total, are identified via individual symbols by Guerrieri Borsoi as a mix of personifications of some of the liberal arts—Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry—and of other similarly intellectual activities, here described as Dance, Astrology, Philosophy, Heroic Poetry, Lyric Poetry, Comedy, and Tragedy. All of these women are framed in likenesses of marble with gold detailing, evoking the idealized splendor of classical Rome.

Detail from the Sala delle Muse of the Villa Sora: Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry, and landscape. Below: portrait of Lucullus (?), and Sforza lion above garland. Credit (with identifications): M. B. Guerrieri Borsoi, Villa Sora a Frascati (Rome: Gangemi, 2000).

As one’s eyes move upward, the garlands of fruits and flowers above the ten women’s heads bring to mind ideas of abundance. Seated in these garlands are alternating depictions of the Boncompagni dragon and the Sforza lion, and interspersed between them are images of the busts of various male figures. The busts are difficult to identify, owing at least in part to the fact that they lack the iconography of the female personifications. Of the ten busts, Guerrieri Borsoi is certain at least one is Cicero, who hailed from Arpino, and that three others are likely to be Homer, Lucullus (the first century BCE commander supposed to have had a villa in Frascati), and Vergil, as a result of either their respective iconography, or their resemblance to other artworks.

Following the gaze of the cherubic figures in the second register upward still, the first register is a corona of seated female figures and pastoral scenes, punctuated by a coat of arms on either side of the room, about half-way down the hall. Here too, one can see the lion and dragon of the Boncompagni and Sforza families, this time in a marriage coat-of-arms. Though the ten women in this register have been identified as the Muses and Mnemosyne due to their iconography, an Apollo figure is conspicuously missing, leading some art historians to misattribute the name to certain other figures.

Landscape (detail) in Sala of the Muses of the Villa Sora showing (apparently) Apollo hunting the Python. Credit (with identification): M. B. Guerrieri Borsoi, Villa Sora a Frascati (Rome: Gangemi, 2000).

The landscapes, though, are the most puzzling pieces in the whole room. While some depict mythological scenes, it is uncertain whether they are symbolic references to the Sforza and Boncompagni, or if they are linked to any of the surrounding artworks. Guerrieri Borsoi argues the centrality of the landscape over the human figure creates a sense of tranquility, a fitting purpose for a leisure estate in the country, and a potential reference to the related Roman aristocratic tradition. Just above this register, even the beams share in the symbolism, bearing a faded coat of arms at their center points and edges; their undersides are painted with images of garlands.

Portrait of Cicero of Arpinum in the Sala of the Muses of the Villa Sora. One of the titles of Giacomo Boncompagni who commissioned these frescoes was Duca di Arpino; and the painter, Giuseppe Cesari, was from this same town. Credit: M. B. Guerrieri Borsoi, Villa Sora a Frascati (Rome: Gangemi, 2000).

What is notably omitted is Giacomo Boncompagni’s history as a political and military figure. The frescoes serve as a stark contrast to his outward life, indicating a more complicated character. The overall message of the room is clear: not only did this property belong to an historic family of wealth and status, with deep reverence for the classical tradition, but the frescoes—which highlight the Boncompagni and Sforza family symbols with roughly equal prominence—were commissioned by a couple with an affinity for the arts and for heroes, a cultured man and his cultured wife.

In 1612, four years after marrying his son Gregorio I Boncompagni (1590-1628) to Eleonora Zapata (1593-1679), Giacomo would die, leaving the property to this son. Unfortunately, the Villa Sora at Frascati would then see little attention for more than a century following. The inventories of this period prove particularly telling, as they show many of the original installations remained, though in increasing disrepair.

Gregorio I Boncompagni largely kept to himself, avoiding politics and spending most of his time on the Isola del Liri near Sora, another component of Pope Gregory XIII’s 1579 purchase, renovated and decorated by Costanza Sforza. Gregorio’s death in 1628 essentially would leave Eleonora Zapata to manage the Villa Sora, first in the name of their son Giacomo II Boncompagni (1613-1636), who died at age 23, and then until her own death in 1679. Though Ugo I Boncompagni (1614-1676), another of Gregory’s sons, came into possession of the villa—still sometimes referred to as “La Torricella” at this point—he ended up selling it to his mother in 1651 for 10,000 scudi as a result of debts he had racked up participating in the 1647 Masaniello revolt and a subsequent series of peasant uprisings.

Eleonora Zapata went on to spend most of her time on the Isola del Liri, and then in Rome. Cardinal Girolamo Boncompagni (1622-1664-1684) would be the next owner of the Villa Sora. As both grand-nephew of Cardinal Filippo Boncompagni (1548-1572-1586, himself nephew of Pope Gregory XIII) and nephew of Cardinal Francesco Boncompagni (1592-1621-1641, son of Giacomo Boncompagni), Girolamo is a somewhat confusing inheritor, only taking precedence through a convoluted rule about first-born heirs. He owned the estate for only about five years; on his death in 1684 it was transferred to his nephew Gregorio II Boncompagni (1642-1707, Ugo’s eldest son).

Details of roadside no. XVII property rented by Msgr. Hercole Visconti. Antonio Giuliani, Registry (1691) of vineyards at the Villa Sora (Frascati). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

By this point, Gregorio II Boncompagni was an established figure, most widely known for his 1681 marriage to Olimpia Ippolita I Ludovisi (1663-1707-1733), Princess of Piombino, a union that merged the two great Bolognese papal families, the Boncompagni and Ludovisi. For a short time (ca. 1621-1632) the Ludovisi had maintained their own grand Tusculan villa just 1.5 kilometers distant, southwest of the town of Frascati—the Villa Ludovisi, which passed to the Conti and eventually (in the 19th century) the Torlonia.

In order to ensure the security of his family name despite a lack of sons, Gregorio II made the choice to marry his eldest daughter, Maria Eleonora Boncompagni Ludovisi (1686-1745), to Antonio I Boncompagni (1658-1721), his own brother and Maria’s uncle. On Gregorio’s death in 1707, the property was destined to pass to Cardinal Giacomo Boncompagni (1652-1695-1731) due to another technicality concerning first-born heirs. Though it is uncertain who actually held the Villa Sora at this time—Antonio was primarily located at the Isola del Liri—it is likely that it was Cardinal Giacomo who was responsible for the works commissioned on the property during this time from at least 1714 onward, if not immediately after Gregory II’s death.

During Cardinal Giacomo Boncompagni’s time at the Villa Sora, the paintings in the sala were restored, and the property’s surrounding landscape, which had long characterized the country villas of the aristocracy, might have been cultivated into a garden, as depicted in the works of Johann Wilhelm Baur (1607-1640) and Melchior Küsel (1626-1684). At any rate, subsequent plans of the property show a central fountain and stables along with a garden. Around this time, it is believed Niccolò Racciolini (1687-1772) was also commissioned to paint scenes of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the Trinity in the property’s chapel, a building which had existed since at least 1627.

Melchior Küsel after Johann Wilhelm Baur (1681). Statues of Mercury and Flora in the garden of the Villa Sora. Credit: Artstor

Neighboring and directly contrasting the chapel was a building defined in a 1716 inventory as a cabinet used for the purpose of what Guerrieri Borsoi describes as “painted hermitage,” which she explains was likely meditation in a simulated hermetic environment, as it was supposed to be decorated with frescoes depicting ruin and isolation. Though the extent of Cardinal Giacomo’s involvement is unclear, he is generally believed to be responsible for the maintenance and additions to the property during this time.

Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi (1706-1745-1777) was the next caretaker of the Villa Sora. Though it does not appear that he spent much of his time there—like many Boncompagni before him, Gaetano was deeply entrenched in pro-Spanish politics—the inventories left behind in the wake of his death betray not only his wealth, but an interest in taking care of and preserving the property, while also maintaining the nearby Villa Ludovisi just southeast of the town of Frascati, as well as numerous other holdings in Rome and elsewhere. Over the course of the 18th century, some of the rooms on the ground floor had suffered water damage, but by the time Gaetano died, not only had the water pipes been restored, but a new barn had been added to the property, the fountains were fixed, and there were new additions to the villa itself.

Melchiorre Passalacqua, gate designs for the Villa Sora at Frascati, before 1805. Credit: M. B. Guerrieri Borsoi, Villa Sora a Frascati (Rome: Gangemi, 2000).

The decorations of the Villa Sora in the 18th century saw a change in theme, with many of the decorations and paintings featuring religious and military iconography, likely to represent Gaetano’s career highlights. Reminiscent of the architectural style of ancient Roman fresco, these paintings open their rooms up beyond the confines of their respective walls, creating the impression of having stepped into another world. Then, in an 1805 inventory drawn up in the wake of the death of Gaetano’s son Antonio II Boncompagni Ludovisi (1735-1777-1805), further details describe what Guerrieri Borsoi dubs the “neoclassical room,” which prominently features mythological scenes and related classical themes. Melchiorre Passalacqua, son of Pietro Passalacqua (1690-1748) and the architect working for Antonio from at least 1777-1805, was also mentioned as being responsible for a series of designs concerning additions to the property, but it remains unclear whether they were ever implemented. What is certain is that this Passalacqua designed a new main gate for the entrance to the Villa Ludovisi, constructed in 1809.

Early 20th century postcard showing large oil on canvas copy of Guido Reni’s ‘Aurora’ (1614), still extant in the Villa Sora, by an unknown Roman artist of the 17th century, here identified as Giuseppe Cesari. One guesses it was painted before the Ludovisi (who prided themselves on their rival 1621 ‘Aurora’ by Guercino) and Boncompagni merged families in 1681. Collection T. C. Brennan

The Napoleonic era brought profound changes to Boncompagni Ludovisi political power. Antonio II Boncompagni Ludovisi had lived through the period of the French Revolution and its aftershocks. Like much of the Roman aristocracy, in this era the family’s power atrophied. In the latter half of the 1790s, he saw Napoleon’s French troops invade the principality of Piombino, which was later integrated into the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and King Ferdinand IV of the Two Sicilies occupy the Duchy of Sora. Another family feudal property, the Marquisate of Vignola in Emilia-Romagna, was absorbed by the Cisalpine Republic.

Luigi Boncompagni Ludovisi (1767-1805-1841), Antonio II’s son, at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) managed to hold onto his hereditary titles and was partially compensated for the loss of Piombino; he would go on to reinvest that money in property purchases closer to Rome, seemingly uninterested in the Villa Sora. His son, Antonio III Boncompagni Ludovisi (1808-1841-1883), was similarly unconcerned with the property, so when it finally passed to Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1832-1883-1911), it had all but faded into obscurity. By chance however we learn that Luigi’s younger brother, Giuseppe Boncompagni Ludovisi (1774-1849) and his wife Maria Celeste Gervasi had an interest in the property; their daughter Laura was born in Frascati in 1810. It must be stressed that even if the heads of the Boncompagni Ludovisi did not favor the Villa Sora as a residence, they still benefited financially from the produce of its land, as detailed family archival records in the Vatican Apostolic Archive (especially the annual Libro Mastro di Roma) amply show.

Postcard (postmarked 1914) showing facade of main palazzo of Villa Sora at Frascati as Salesian school. Collection T. C. Brennan

Though Prince Rodolfo was the last of the family to own the Villa Sora, scant public evidence remains of his relationship with the Frascati property. His son Monsignor Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1856-1935), in Ricordi di mia Madre, a compendious 1921 memoir of Rodolfo’s wife and his mother Agnese Borghese, altogether neglects to mention the Villa Sora. On Agnese’s trips to the Frascati area—where for instance she sat out an 1854 cholera epidemic—she seems to have stayed at Villa Taverna, a Borghese possession from 1615 until 1896.

Guerrieri Borsoi in her 2000 study of the Villa Sora laments her lack of access to the family archive. As it happens, the cache of tens of thousands of documents brought to light by HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2010 has some previously unknown material on the Villa Sora, filling in some important gaps, and justifying a fresh look at this historic property.

Most spectacular is a 1691 ‘Catasto’ by the surveyor Antonio Giuliani that illustrates the property of the Villa Sora in extreme (and somewhat whimsical) detail, with special attention to renters of Boncompagni vineyards and the rents they paid.

Map with (at left) key of main complex of Villa Sora. From Antonio Giuliani, Registry (1691) of vineyards at the Villa Sora (Frascati). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome
Self-portrait (left) of surveyor Antonio Giuliani; rendering (right) of no. I property of the Villa Sora rented by one Giulio Pelli. Antonio Giuliani, Registry (1691) of vineyards at the Villa Sora (Frascati). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Also of particular note for the general situation in Frascati in the earliest 19th century is a long series of letters from the administrator of the Villa Sora, one Angelo Antonio de Marchis, addressed to Luigi Boncompagni Ludovisi, shortly after his accession as Prince of Piombino in 1805. The letters—sometimes multiple missives are written in the span of a week—contain lavish detail of how French troops were bivouacked at the Villa Sora, as well as more mundane matters. There is even an itemized grocery list from this period (3 July 1806), for the meals (two lunches and a dinner) of the “architect and capo mastro” who worked at the Villa Sora during this time. Angelo Antonio de Marchis was succeeded as administrator by his son, Pietro de Marchis, whom we find in the role by 1822, serving into the early 1830s.

Note (Thursday 3 July 1806) of Angelo Antonio de Marchis, administrator of the Villa Sora, listing lunch and dinner expenses for two visitors to Frascati, and (unnamed) architect and ‘capo mastro’. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

It is with Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1834-1911, Prince of Piombino from 1883) that the story of the family at the Villa Sora comes to a close. As attested to in the Vatican Apostolic Archives, on 2 September 1893, Rodolfo sold the now-downtrodden property to Tommaso Saulini for 200,000 lire. And just like that, over two centuries of history—not to mention all the art and architecture that the Boncompagni and Boncompagni Ludovisi had sponsored—were essentially lost. Also, a large number of documents concerning the villa were handed over to Saulini and today remain inaccessible.

Saulini was by profession a hardstone cutter—he was the son of Italy’s foremost artist in that medium—and, along with his own son, made a career specializing in cameos. Guerrieri Borsoi was unable to trace Saulini’s heirs, so she posits that the family was likely attempting to make a profit off the property, and that they sold it a number of times to various owners; whatever their intentions, when the Salesians bought the Villa Sora from them on 28 October 1900 for 32,000 lire, the Villa Sora’s turbulent history was over.

Letter (3 September 1806) of Angelo Antonio de Marchis, administrator of the Villa Sora, to Prince Luigi Boncompagni Ludovisi, detailing damage to the property as the result of a severe (5.6) earthquake of 26 August 1806, the strongest ever documented in the general territory of Rome. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Well, for the most part.

The Salesians’ aims for the Villa Sora involved the construction of a school that would eventually become the Collegio Salesiano Villa Sora. Because the remnants of the once-proud villa were too limited for the scope of the Salesian project, they began adding buildings to the property. In 1905, a section was built against the southern face, and in 1912 an entirely new building was added; by 1926 the latter was connected to the original villa by a two-story hall. In 1933, the addition of a theater and a chapel were initiated, and work continued through 1955.

The renovations might have finished earlier, if not for bombings during WWII. In Rome, on the 13th of August 1943 allied bombs killed over five hundred civilians. Just three months previous, Pope Pius XII had written US President Franklin D. Roosevelt a plea to spare the city of Rome. Roosevelt’s response at the time was to say bombings over Rome and the Vatican were being limited as much as possible. Yet 14 August 1943 saw Rome declared an “open city,” a title generally reserved for cities attempting to spare their infrastructure in the face of imminent capture. Despite Rome’s designation as an “open city”, however, sporadic bombings continued through the end of 1943 and into the beginning of 1944.

On 8 September 1943, the Villa Sora was hit, resulting in the loss of the most recent buildings. The Salesians were quick to bounce back, though, and as the property was restored the villa served as home for many who had been displaced during the war. The school is still operational, and though deeply transformed, the history always manages to peek through.

La Settimana INCOM 00260 (3 September 1949): work of reconstructing war damage in Frascati. The newsreel closes with views of damage to the Villa Torlonia (ex-Ludovisi) and Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati. Credit: Cinecittà LUCE

The Villa Sora, much like its Roman cousin the Villa Ludovisi, upholds the Boncompagni Ludovisi legacy of treasures hidden in plain sight. Whereas the Villa Ludovisi has now entered a state of diamond-in-the-rough obscurity thanks to the rapid division and development of much of the property in the mid 1880s, the history of the Villa Sora—though remaining fairly intact and with its most important features largely unchanged—is mostly forgotten. The reasons? A combination of the Boncompagni Ludovisi using the Villa as a secondary (even tertiary) home, the Salesians’ thoroughly repurposing the property, and the damage brought about during several occupations and World War II. Still, in 2006, the Villa Sora found itself on a tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Video “What do students think of Villa Sora? (2020). Views of Sala delle Muse starting at :39. Credit: Salesiani Villa Sora

If there is any lesson to be learned from the history of the Villa Sora at Frascati, it should be that these works deserve to be protected and cherished as soon as possible—a message with clear relevance to the present situation with the Casino dell’Aurora in Rome. This history belongs to everyone, and it would be foolish to wait, hoping an external group may intervene just in time to protect another integral piece of the Boncompagni Ludovisi legacy.

In conversations about the Boncompagni Ludovisi properties with Rutgers professor Corey Brennan, the late Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi (1941-1988-2018) expressed deep regret at the forfeiture of such an important ancestral property, to the point where he would refuse to talk about the Villa Sora. The loss was a wound too deep to be safely reopened. The gaps in the already skeletal outline of the Villa Sora’s history above should be evidence enough that some pieces of history can never be replaced. Now, the Casino dell’Aurora is on the line, in spite of the work that has been put in to save it— why should it too be forgotten?

Isobel Ali is a recent (2022) graduate of the School of Arts & Sciences, Rutgers University, with a BA in Ancient History and Criminal Justice. As a 2022 summer intern, she hopes to see the Villa Ludovisi officially made an historical site in the coming years, and she conveys her deepest thanks to both HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi and Dr. T. Corey Brennan for the unparalleled opportunity to work with this historical material.

Marriage coat of arms of Costanza Sforza, combining the Boncompagni dragon and her family’s lion, on north and south walls of the Sala delle Muse, Villa Sora. Credit: M. B. Guerrieri Borsoi, Villa Sora a Frascati (Rome: Gangemi, 2000).

A new self-portrait of Michelangelo? The statue of Pan at the Casino dell’Aurora in Rome. Part II: Testimonia (sketches, earlier inventories)

By Hatice Köroglu Çam (Rutgers ’22)

A 16th-century life-size marble statue, inspired by a sculptor’s deep passion for antiquities, shows the characteristic features of the Greek god Pan: pointed ears, short horns, goat-like legs, animal pelt, and erect phallus. It is the heavily-weathered Ludovisi Pan in the garden of Rome’s Casino dell’Aurora, which has stood outside in the area of the Villa Ludovisi for 400 years. Originally the sculpture was one of the pieces of the collection of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1621-1632), the nephew of Alessandro Ludovisi (= Pope Gregory XV, reigned 1621-1623). Presumably even before the statue passed into the Cardinal’s possession, it was associated with Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), an identification taken for granted by the early nineteenth century.

‘Pan’ attributed to Michelangelo at the Casino dell’Aurora. Collection †HSH Prince
Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome (photo by the author).

Considering Michelangelo’s obsession with physical details and his perfection of nude male figures, it is challenging to be conclusive on the attribution of a damaged sculpture. My previous post “A new self-portrait of Michelangelo? The statue of Pan at the Casino dell’Aurora in Rome. Part I: Correspondences” argued for attribution to Michelangelo by using a good number of stylistic comparisons between the statue of Pan and the artist’s well-known works of art, including his sculptures the Moses, the Bacchus, and the David, and presenting significant artistic correspondences between them. I maintained however that the closest stylistic parallel is between the facial depiction of the Ludovisi Pan and the mask at the center of the box in Michelangelo’s sketch the Dream of Human Life (ca. 1533), where an identical appearance strongly reinforces the attribution to Michelangelo. That mask is widely considered to be a a self-portrait of Michelangelo. And so I argued that Pan’s face also displays a satirical self-portrait of Michelangelo, probably not the effort of a copyist.

Here I will examine a second drawing, a red-chalk sheet by Michelangelo now in Frankfurt’s Städel Museum. I also will discuss representations of the Ludovisi Pan in 18th century sketchbooks by principally Hamlet Winstanley (1723), Bernardino Ciferri (1710-30), Pompeo Batoni and Antonio Canova (1780), comparing these with a series of historical photographs of the statue from 1885. Moreover, this study explores Ludovisi and then Boncompagni Ludovisi inventory records, especially from 1633 and 1749; I underline the significance of the latter inventory, which shows the unusually high valuation placed on this statue. I should say at the outset that the reader will not find a certain document showing that this Pan is Michelangelo’s work—which of course would be the easiest scenario.

Michelangelo, Il Sogno (The Dream), ca. 1533, with detail, The Courtauld, London
Michelangelo, Grotesque Heads and Other Studies (recto) ca. 1525, with detail at right, Städel
Museum, Frankfurt

A significant representation of the Ludovisi Pan from the 18th century, and a remarkable connection

Of the hundreds of ancient sculptures in the collection of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, it is noteworthy that the Ludovisi Pan was one of the chief pieces that caught the attention and interest of 18th century artists. An unnoticed drawing of this Pan dated 1723 by Hamlet Winstanley at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, which I am the first to bring into the discussion of this statue, goes some way toward erasing doubts and questions about references to Michelangelo. This spectacular presentation drawing is of unusual importance, in that it articulates the statue of Pan in its once near-flawless state, and also establishes a connection between Michelangelo’s drawing at the Städel Museum and this particular statue.

Hamlet Winstanley, Statue of Pan, Villa Ludovisi Garden, 1723, Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Credit: L. C. Bulman, Georgian Group Journal 12 (2002) 64.

Hamlet Winstanley (1694-1756) made this drawing for Lord Coleraine (Henry Hare, 3rd Baron Coleraine, (1693-1749), who was an English antiquary, politician, and active member of the Society of Antiquaries. In all, Winstanley produced some twelve copies for Coleraine from the Ludovisi and Medici collections in Rome. After Coleraine’s death, his collection of prints and drawings of antiquities was given to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Winstanley’s letter to James Stanley (10th Earl of Derby) from 22 January 1724 provides a snippet of information about his visit to Rome and his artistic work there. Winstanley wrote: “Since I’ve been Rome I have drawn Several Antique figures (for) my Lord Colerain, …” Here Wistanley mentions merely ancient sculptures, and does not mention the modern one he had drawn, namely the Ludovisi Pan (1723). His sketch does not identify it as by Michelangelo, and it is possible that he thought the piece was ancient.

Winstanley’s drawing carefully shows the anatomical forms of this sculpture, and so functions as a mirror of the sculptor’s meticulous depiction of the whole half-human, half-goat body of this god Pan. The painstaking effort of Winstanley to convey all the surface features of this statue showcases his deep interest in it. At first glance, the most striking features of this Pan are how the Winstanley depicts the very detailed facial expression with curly, long forked beard; the pronounced veins on the right hand through the right arm and on the left arm; and also the gestures of each hand holding the animal pelt, especially the curving index finger of the left hand of this muscular Pan. All of these depictions explicitly reveal not only Winstanley’s but also the sculptor’s obsession with the figure’s attributes. In the depiction of the facial expression, we can see a fastidious rendering of the elongated eyes and eyebrows, and of the curls between the eyebrows and forehead, plus a long and broken nose, open mouth, the curvilinear and organic forms of a long forked beard, and a mustache that curves down. Exaggerated pointed ears, short horns, an animal pelt (presumably a deerskin) hanging over his right shoulder, but especially goat-like legs and animal hooves represent the figure as the god Pan.

It is important to stress that what Winstanley provides us with this drawing are the finer details of the Ludovisi Pan that have now largely disappeared. In particular, the curls on the figure’s face, the long and curly forked beard, the highly elaborated details on the animal pelt hanging over his right shoulder, and the long curly fur on the goat-like legs are mostly not visible today. Considering Winstanley’s very detailed depiction of the face and beard, and comparing these details with other 18th-century other drawings and sketches, as well as historical and archival photographs from 1885 and 1986, I have come to the conclusion (to be discussed at length in Part III of this study) that the original statue has deteriorated quite severely over time. The forked beard seems badly damaged; nevertheless, even in its present state it recalls again Michelangelo’s own forked beard style in his portraits by other artists and his self-portraits.

Now, a drawing located in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford—formerly attributed to Raphael (1483 – 1520) and the school of Michelangelo—has some relevance here. This drawing (on the verso) shows a nude man seen from behind, in addition to other studies. At the top left of the sheet, there is a depiction of a head. The depiction of the beard of this figure is very close to the artistic style of Pan’s forked beard before it was damaged; Winstanley’s drawing clearly shows that similarity.

Nude Man seen from behind, and other studies (WA1846.259), formerly
attributed to Raphael (1483 – 1520), School of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564). Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

More significantly, there is a close connection between the Oxford piece by Winstanley and a red-chalk sheet by Michelangelo from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. In the Städel Museum piece, there are heads and torsos of various grotesque figures on the recto, dated 1525. Two of them are faun-like creatures. On the left of the sheet (not far left), there is a depiction of a faun-like figure, who looks “fierce,” with an open mouth, tense face and quite exaggerated ears and horns, and a muscular torso. One immediately thinks of the mask in the middle of the box in Michelangelo’s Dream of Human Life.

Scholarly support is strong for the authenticity of this Städel Museum piece. Achim Gnann in Michelangelo: The Drawings of a Genius (2010) provides a very detailed description of the verso and recto of this sheet, and points out that many scholars such as M. Hirst, P. Joannides, H. Chapman, E. Jacobsen, and M. Delacre agreed that both sides of the sheet are the master’s own hand. Leonard Barkan in his Michelangelo: A Life on Paper (2011) concurs. In Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer (2017), Carmen C. Bambach exhibits both verso and recto of this sheet and explains “scattered incidental jottings by pupils also appear on the Frankfurt verso, but the main motifs on the recto and verso are forceful enough that they may be mostly the master’s autographs.”

A comparison between the facial expression of the red chalk faun-like figure on the left of the Frankfurt sheet by Michelangelo to the depiction of Oxford drawing by Hamlet Winstanley reveals very close similarities in appearance and in artistic style, with variation of some forms. The depiction of the eyes, the shape of the eyebrows, and the treatment of the lower forehead between the eyebrows are the same. Significantly, the long, broken, and wide-shaped nose and wide-shaped nostrils are almost identical. Unfortunately, today these details on the actual Ludovisi Pan statue have largely disappeared, but are visible in 1885 photos, confirming the accuracy of Winstanley’s drawing.

There are more points of contact between the Frankfurt sheet and the Ludovisi Pan. In the drawing, the depiction of each iris of the eyes reflects the artist’s Mannerist style, in that the irises seem to be looking in different directions; the direction of the irises of our Pan seems not exactly the same but is slightly close. Even though Ludovisi Pan does not have teeth, the open mouth and the shape of the lip are almost the same. Also, the depiction of the mustache of this figure is very similar to Ludovisi Pan, especially when compared to Pan’s historical photos.

There are also dissimilarities in some details. The most striking one is the depiction of the beard; the Städel Museum sheet shows a very different beard from our Pan, but it is still forked. Plus the horns and the ears seem more exaggerated than those of the Ludovisi Pan. Still it is fair to state that the whole appearance of the face in the Städel Museum drawing is evocative of the Ludovisi Pan. In other words, the culmination of stylistic similarities demonstrates that Ludovisi Pan reflects Michelangelo’s artistic style.

Other 18th century representations on paper of the Ludovisi Pan

Another significant sketch of the Ludovisi Pan is in the hand of the noted portrait painter Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787), today found in Richard Topham’s collection (1671-1730) at Eton College (Palma I 4, p. 133 fig. 136). Batoni first arrived in Rome in May 1727, and so presumably sketched the Ludovisi Pan between that time and before Topham’s death on 7 September 1730. It is one of many Batoni drawings in the Topham collection of sculptures and artifacts from the Ludovisi collection, the others being largely ancient, such as the Pan and Daphnis ( Palma I 4, fig. 132), the group of Amor and Psyche (Palma I 4, fig. 114), and Silenus (Palma I 4, fig. 131.)

Pompeo Batoni, Statue of Pan (Palma I 4 p. 133), by 1730.

Batoni’s sketch of the Ludovisi Pan highlights the muscular depiction of the figure—an obsession of Michelangelo’s—and in so doing creates tactile forms. Batoni’s depiction of the upper body of this Pan is especially reminiscent of Michelangelo’s muscular men in the master’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures. Like Winstanley’s drawing, Batoni documents details now lost to us: pronounced pointed ears, a long and curly forked beard, and long curly fur on the goat-like legs. When comparing both Winstanley’s and Batoni’s depiction of the beard with the Ashmolean Museum sheet, we can easily notice the stylistic similarities. I should note that both Winstanley’s and Batoni’s depictions of the head and each of the hands seem smaller and inconsistent with the Pan’s entire muscular torso—especially the hands, which are shown as very elegant.

Another 18th century drawing that focuses on the exaggerated musculature of the Ludovisi Pan is by Bernardino Ciferri. He died in 1760, but his works were obtained by Richard Topham in the era 1720-1730, and in that way came to Eton College. So presumably Ciferri made his drawing of the Pan before 1730. A comparison of Ciferri’s rendering of the facial expression to the depiction of the details found in Batoni (as well as other artists) and also to the original statue, it is quite clear that Ciferri aimed intentionally to differentiate the appearance of the face by emphasizing the muscular body of the figure with the characteristic features of the god Pan. In other words, this different face reflects the artist’s own interpretation.

Bernardino Ciferri, Statue of Pan, ca. 1710-1730. Credit: Eton College Library

On closer examination of Ciferri’s treatment of the anatomy, especially on the right hand side, we can recognize a careful rendering of the ribcage, all the muscular details, and the veins of the right hand—anatomical details visible in the photos of 1885 and indeed also those of 1986. Yet on the whole, Ciferri’s muscular body depiction seems more exaggerated than other artists’ representations of Ludovisi Pan, while the small head and elegant hand seem not entirely consistent with the other parts of the body. 

In contrast to Winstanley, Batoni, and Ciferri’s drawings, Antonio Canova (1757-1822) depicts the Ludovisi Pan coexisting on the same sheet with an ancient sculpture group, namely the Ludovisi Pan and Daphnis (now at the Palazzo Altemps). This important sheet, dated 1780, showing the ancient and Renaissance sculptures together, raises several important questions about this famed artist’s approach to the Pan statue and its physical location at this time period.

Antonio Canova, Statue of Pan and Group of Pan and Daphnis, 1780.
Bassano, Museo Civico (Neg. E. b. 15 1026) (Palma I 4 p. 162)

The first question: why would an artist choose to draw a modern statue next to a very important Pan and Daphnis, an ancient group that is a Roman copy of the Hellenistic original? As Francis Haskell has noted, in 1556 Ulisse Aldrovandi recorded this group in the Cesi sculpture garden—a very important source for Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi’s later sculpture collection. Ulisse Aldrovandi described it as “one of those most beautiful works that one sees in Rome. And perhaps it is one of the three satyrs which Pliny celebrates so much.”

Hendrix van Cleve III, Sculpture Garden of Cardinal Cesi, 1584. Credit: K. M. Bentz, Journal of Society of Architectural Historians 72 (2013)

Beatrice Palma (I 4, Fig. 169) gives the exact date of Canova’s sheet that combines the Ludovisi Pan with an ancient group of sculptures: it was sketched between 29 April and 5 May 1780. Were both pieces located in the same place? According to Haskell, in 1780 the Pan and Daphnis group seems to have been located in the Villa Ludovisi outside the Palazzo Grande. More precisely, Haskell reports that “this ancient piece was given to Ludovisi Family in the Summer of 1622 and eleven years later was recorded in the ‘Bosco delle Statue’ outside the Palazzo Grande until the early years of the nineteenth century with the other statues. Between 1885 and 1890 this ancient statue was taken with the other statues in the collection to the new palace built for the Prince of Piombino”, i.e., the extension of the Palazzo Grande that was constructed on the Via Veneto, today the US Embassy in Rome. In 1901, the Italian government purchased the Pan and Daphnis and it was moved to the Museo Nazionale Romano.

Pan and Daphnis, Roman copy of a Hellenistic original. The Boncompagni Ludovisi Collection, Palazzo Altemps, Rome (photo by the author)

Though much is uncertain, it seems appropriate to suggest that Canova’s depiction of the Ludovisi Pan and the Pan and Daphnis group together on the same sheet both announces the importance of this marble Ludovisi Pan, and may give a clue about its location in 1780. Even though on the sheet Canova’s depiction of the Ludovisi Pan seems a little unfinished—especially the right arm—his rendering of the head and face corroborate the disappeared details pictured by Winstanley, Batoni and Ciferri, especially the long forked beard. Considering the well-known skill of these artists, all of their depictions of the Pan statue may be accepted as definitive testimonia in our quest for attribution.

Testimony from Guercino?

The collection of Sir Robert Witt at the Courtauld Institute Galleries in London holds an intriguing drawing executed ca. 1625 by Guercino (inv. no 1346) that seems quite relevant to my inquiry. It shows a satyr with a forked beard furtively watching two seated nymphs from behind a tree. The depiction of the satyr is evocative of the Ludovisi Pan in some important respects, especially the forked beard, muscular shoulders, and goat-like appearance of the upper part of the right leg. Other key details of the Guercino drawing differ from the statue, most importantly the satyr’s shaded face, long horns, and exaggerated horn-like ears.

Guercino, Two Nymphs and A Satyr, ca. 1625. Pen and brown ink, brush with brown wash, 20.3 x 13.7 cm (8 x 53_s in.) London, Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, D.1952.RW.1346

We have no certain information about precisely when Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi first came into possession of the Pan sculpture, and whether he acquired it by purchase or gift. However we are sure that starting in late 1621 Guercino had an important commission from the Ludovisi to decorate ceilings of the Casino dell’Aurora, returning to his native Cento only after the death of Pope Gregory XV on 8 July 1623. Given this chronology, it is quite possible that Guercino took inspiration from the Ludovisi Pan and drew this satyr and two nymphs even as late as ca. 1625, despite the fact he was out of Rome. This satyr may be read as a different representation of the Ludovisi Pan. Indeed it may be a bit earlier than 1625, and a preparatory sketch for the fresco of a Satyr that Guercino executed in the Casino dell’ Aurora, now no longer visible but seen as recently as 1904, as T. Corey Brennan has shown in Storia dell’ Arte 157 (2022).

An enormous fig leaf for the Ludovisi Pan

After examining all these drawings and sketches from the 18th century, one factor is quite important: while Joseph Vernet (1737) depicted this Pan in its larger garden context with an enormous fig leaf, Batoni, Ciferri, and Canova explicitly show the statue with its erect phallus. In Part III of this study I will provide and discuss Vernet’s 1737 depiction. The latest sketch we possess, that by Canova in 1780, shows that whoever decided to add a fig-leaf to the statue drilled a hole into the marble of the phallus to fasten it. That hole is still visible on the actual statue today. Yet the historical photographs from 1885 show this Pan, now located in a temple-like structure (aedicula) on a garden path of the north-central portion of the Villa Ludovisi along the Aurelian Wall, with a fig leaf covering its genitalia. For these images, we owe Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913), who oversaw a comprehensive photography campaign of the exterior portions of the Villa Ludovisi before the destruction and development of its greater part in the latter half of the 1880s.

Detail of the Pan statue in 1885, close by the Aurelian Walls that bounded the Villa Ludovisi to the north. Photo: Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

There are many points in the 19th century where ideas about decorum may have influenced the owners of the statue to retain the covering. Luigi Boncompagni Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino from 1805 until his death in 1841, had the reputation of adding fig-leaves to sculptures in the family collection. The Irish novelist and travel writer Sydney, Lady Morgan (1781-1859), who sojourned in Italy in 1819-1820, is said to have told Prince Luigi she would accept his invitation to revisit the Villa Ludovisi “at the fall of the leaf“. The drive toward artistic modesty only intensified during the reigns of Popes Gregory XVI (1831-1846) and Pius IX (1846-1878). Indeed, Pius IX personally visited the Villa Ludovisi on 10 September 1853 “in order to view the antiquities lately found in the Garden of Sallustius“, as was widely reported at the time. Official events such as this explain the retention of fig-leaves.

Whatever the date, the state of the Pan with an enormous fig leaf underlines its problematic subject matter. Indeed, its erect phallus surely negatively affected its attribution to Michelangelo in the second half of the 19th century.   

Documentary evidence from the inventories

Having reviewed this testimony for the physical state of the Ludovisi Pan in the 18th and 19th centuries, we can now turn our focus to the family’s inventory records, and how they value this statue. It would seem that the 28 January 1633 inventory record of the Villa Ludovisi (Palma I 4 doc. 13 p. 78 no. 262), compiled soon after the death of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, mentions for the first time this statue as a part of his collection. It appears in the ‘Galleria del Bosco’, also known as “the Labyrinth” a formal garden within the Villa Ludovisi that extended north of the Palazzo Grande, which the Cardinal used as a secondary space for exhibiting sculptures in his collection.

Plan of the Villa Ludovisi, published in G.B. FaldaLi giardini di Roma: con le loro piante alzate e vedute in prospettiva (1670), with annotations showing the location of the Galleria del Bosco = ‘Labyrinth’ (site of Pan statue in 1633 inventory) and the “Niche” with statue reported in the 1641 inventory and following.

In this “Gallery” is reported “an ancient marble sarcophagus, above four columns, with diverse bas-reliefs, with a figure underneath of a satyr of life-size height, set on the ground between two cypresses” [Un Pilo antico di marmo sopra quattro colonne con diversi bassirilievi, con sotto una figura d’un satiro alto del naturale posato in Terra trà due Cipressi]. Palma (I 4 p. 78) identifies this satyr with our Pan. This 1633 inventory does not attribute the sculpture to Michelangelo, though it explicitly notes that a room in the Palazzo Grande had two herms in metal (i.e., bronze) said to be by the master’s hand (Palma I 4 doc. 13 p. 74 nos. 75-76).

A century later, in a 29 December 1733 inventory (Palma I 4 doc. 29 p. 132 no. 352), we find listed as the sole work of art on the “avenue facing the hunting-dog house that belongs to the Casino—a large statue standing on a stone pedestal between two cypresses near the road leading to Porta Pinciana” [Viale in faccia alla Braccheria corrispondente al Casino—Una statua grande in piedi sopra piedestallo di muro in mezzo a due cipressi vicino alla strada che va a Porta Pinciana“. The mention of the two cypresses reminds one of the placement of the satyr in 1633.

If so, what happened to the four columns and the sarcophagus? Already in a 1641 inventory of the “outside” sculptures in the Villa Ludovisi, listed right after the colossal Juno (today in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts) that stood at the north boundary of the Villa Ludovisi hard against the Aurelian wall, one finds (Palma I 4 doc. 16 p. 84 nos. 6-7) “A statue—a Satyr of the natural [size] with his adornment. A decorated large sarcophagus placed above the decoration of said Satyr with its lid on which sarcophagus there are two reclining figures” [Una statua un Satiro del naturale con suo adornamento. Un Pilo Grande historiato posto sopra L’adornamento di detto Satiro con il suo Coperchio nel qual pilo vi sono due figure colche]. In an immensely valuable 1670 view of the Villa Ludovisi by Giovanni Battista Falda (1643-1678), indeed one can see a structure against the city wall with a facade of four evenly spaced columns, with what appears to be a sarcophagus on top. One important point: the structure stands at the top of a long and straight path precisely on axis with the main entrance of the Palazzo Grande. We know that this avenue was called the “Viale del Satiro”—the “Avenue of the Satyr”.

Detail of plan of the Villa Ludovisi, published in G.B. Falda, Li giardini di Roma: con le loro piante alzate e vedute in prospettiva (1670), showing against the Aurelian Wall the “Niche” (at left) and the colossal statue of ‘Juno’ (at right).

The 1733 Boncompagni Ludovisi inventory (Palma I 4 doc. 29 p. 132 no. 358-359) offers further information. We learn that “attached to the aforementioned [i.e., Aurelian] walls facing the so-called Avenue of the Satyr” is “a large niche supported by four columns faced in marble, above it a large urn [i.e., sarcophagus] with various figures in low relief, and other ornamentations; under this niche, and within it [is] a satyr standing in marble on a small marble pedestal” [Una nicchia grande sostenuta da quattro colonne di facciata di Marmo, sopra di essa un’Urna grande con diverse figure di basso rilievo, ed altri ornamenti, sotto della qual nicchia, ed entro di essa un Satiro in piedi di marmo sopra piccolo piedestallo di marmo].

To this notice we can join the inventory of the Topham collection, which as we have seen was compiled ca. 1720-1730. That lists right after the ‘Faustina’ (= colossal Juno), a “statue of the God Pan inside a niche, and above, a bas-relief with three divisions, with two figures for each one, and above two reclining portraits of a man and a woman” [Statua del Dio Pan dentro una nicchia e sopra un Basso relievo con tre spartimenti , con due figure per ciascheduno e sopra due Ritratti a giacere d ‘uomo e di Donna] (Palma I 4 doc. 28 p. 125 no. 108).

Most significantly, the Topham inventory calls the statue “the God Pan”. And its description of the sarcophagus allows us to confidently identify it with one that came, together with a non-matching lid, to Cardinal Ludovisi from the Cesarini collection (T. Schreiber, Die antiken Bildwerke der Villa Ludovisi in Rom nos. 212 and 213). Today the assemblage is in Rome’s Villa Ada (for full discussion see especially M. E. Micheli in Palma I 6 pp. 134-140; also Palma 2012 p. 157). As it happens, sometime in the years 1720-1730 Giovanni Domenico Campiglia (1692-1775) drew this sarcophagus and its lid, with his work now also at Eton College. In the Topham Collection the lid and Bernadino Ciferri’s sketch of the Pan were catalogued together: volume Bm.12 fol. 108 (lid), 109-110 (Pan), 123-124 (sarcophagus proper).

Sarcophagus and lid (Schreiber 212-213) that originally topped the “Niche” with four columns at the top of the Viale del Satiro in the Villa Ludovisi, now in Rome’s Villa Ada. Credit: Palma I 6 p. 135.

These testimonia from 1641 and the 1720s-1730s would seem to settle the question of the final placement of the Pan statue. But do they? Giuseppe Felici in his Villa Ludovisi in Roma (1952) states flatly that until the early 19th century the satyr sculpture in the “niche” was a completely different figure, an ancient copy of the “Pouring Satyr” (now in the Museo Nazionale Romano Palazzo Altemps), and that is what gave the name to the “Viale del Satiro”. Palma herself equivocates on whether the satyr sculpture in the “niche” was originally the “Pouring Satyr” or the Ludovisi Pan: see especially Palma I 4 p. 211; also p. 84, on 1641, against p. 125 on 1720-1730, and p. 132, on 1733. In Part III, after a survey of further testimonia—especially that of early guidebooks—on the statue, I will offer my answer to the question, and explain how Felici made what is in fact a mistake.

The high value placed on that statue of a satyr in the “niche” emerges clearly from an inventory record of 31 March 1749 of the sculptures in the Villa Ludovisi (Palma I 4 doc. 31 p. 146 nos. 156-157). In a section devoted to the part of the collection placed at the “Walls of Rome”, we find: “The famous marble satyr in Greek style of natural (size) [Il famoso satiro di marmo in maniera greca al naturale]: 4000 scudi.” Then “Urn above four columns that form an ornament for the aforementioned satyr, in Gothic style, with a lid of two figures reclining, in the manner of a tomb: 200 scudi.”

For comparison, the same 1749 inventory shows the value of Bernini’s Pluto and Proserpina as 10,000 scudi, and the Suicidal Gaul group as 15,000 scudi. Of statues exhibited outside in the Villa Ludovisi, only three earn a higher valuation, each of them colossal in scale: a Dionysus and satyr group (Schreiber no. 77, 11000 scudi), a reclining Silenus (Schreiber 137 and 138, 10,000 scudi), and the Great Battle Sarcophagus (Schreiber no. 186, 6000 scudi).

Left: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Rape of Proserpina, 1621–22, Galleria Borghese,
Rome. Right: “Paetus and Arria” (Ludovisi Gaul and Wife), Roman copy of a bronze original
of ca. 230-220 B.C. Boncompagni Ludovisi Collection, Palazzo
Altemps, Rome (photo by the author)

It is helpful to compare the value of the satyr in the “niche” in 1749 with that of the famed Dying Gaul in 1733, a Roman copy from a Hellenistic (230-220 BCE) original, once a Ludovisi possession, and now exhibited at the Capitoline Museums. As Paolo Coen has noted (The Art Market in Rome in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in the Social History of Art), in December 1733, upon the death of Princess Ippolita Ludovisi, the Marquis Alessandro Gregorio Capponi began negotiations with Cardinal Troiano d’Acquaviva for the purchase of the Dying Gaul. The starting price of 12,000 scudi, set by the sculptor Agostino Cornacchini, nephew of Cardinal Carlo Agostino Fabroni, was reduced to 6,000 scudi. In addition, in a 2018 contribution, Daniela Gallo (“Economic and Scholarly Appraisal of Ancient Marbles in Late 18th- Century Rome”) studies the purchase prices for the Museo Clementino Museums between 1772-1778. According to Gallo, in 1772 Princess Cornelia Constanza Barberini received 2600 scudi for the sale of a colossal statue of Juno. These examples open a window to rethink the relative value of statues in the 18th century, and shows that 4000 scudi is a value in a range that would be reserved for only the most valuable sculptures.

Left: Dying Gaul, Roman copy of a bronze original dating from ca. 230-220 B.C. Capitoline Museums, Rome. Right: Juno (Barberini’s Hera), Musei Vaticani, Museo Pio Clementino (photo by the author)

One further note. By the time of the 1885 photo campaign of the Villa Ludovisi, we find that the “niche” against the Aurelian Wall at the top of the Viale del Satiro has been transformed into an aedicula. The four columns that formed the facade of the original assemblage have been respaced, a pair grouped at either side. The structure now has a traditional pediment with the head of a Medusa at center; an additional pair of columns has been added as supports to the roof at rear. A fence closes off open areas of the aedicula, protecting our Pan (now with a fig-leaf) within. As for the sarcophagus and its lid, they are repositioned on the ground along the wall a few dozen meters to the east. In Part III I will discuss the probable date of that transformation.

Left: ‘Aedicula’ for the Pan statue in 1885, replacing the earlier ‘Niche’ topped by a late Roman sarcophagus and lid with married pair. Right: just a few meters east of the ‘Aedicula’, colossal Roman statue of ‘Juno’, and to its right (indicated by arrow), the sarcophagus in question.
Photo credits: Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.


The representations of the Ludovisi Pan created by 18th-century artists, principally Winstanley, Batoni, Canova, and Ciferri, demonstrate not only their great interest in this 16th-century marble sculpture, but also its importance among other pieces in the collection of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi. More significantly, their artworks, which show the former state of this now-damaged sculpture, provide an invaluable opportunity to compare the Ludovisi Pan’s stylistic forms with Michelangelo’s work of art.

The very detailed work by Winstanley especially shows how this statue was inspirational for the artist. Indeed, the stylistic correspondence between the Frankfurt Michelangelo sheet and Winstanley’s Oxford drawing should be seen as one of the pieces of evidence for the attribution to the master. Furthermore, Canova’s sketch showing the Ludovisi Pan and the ancient statue group of Pan and Daphnis together in the same sheet should be read for his high regard for these sculptures. Like the drawings and sketches from the 18th century, historical photographs from 1885 also provide a chance to compare the former state and present state of the statue. Together, this evidence reveals that this Pan has suffered an unfortunate loss of detail, especially in the face, which has caused the few modern scholars who have seen the sculpture to undervalue it. In addition to these representations of this statue, the inventory records through the mid-18th century (especially that of 1749, that may suggest a high price for the statue) should be read as important documentary evidence for rethinking the Ludovisi Pan, a task that we shall return to in Part III.

Principal works referenced

Bambach, C. C. Michelangelo, Divine Draftsman & Designer. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017.

Barkan, L. Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999.

Brennan, T. C. “L’archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi e gli affreschi di Guercino per il Casino dell’ Aurora”. Storia dell’ Arte 157 (2022) 1-8.

Brooks, J., and N. E. Silver. Guercino: Mind to Paper. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2006.

Bulman, L. C. “The market for commissioned drawings after the antique”. The Georgian Group Journal 12 (2002): 59-73.

Candilio, D. and B. Palma Venetucci. “Alcune novità sulla dispersione della Collezione Ludovisi”. Eidola 9 (2012): 141-163.

Gallo, D. “Economic and Scholarly Appraisal of Ancient Marbles in Late 18th-Century Rome”, in P. Coen (ed.), The Art Market in Rome in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in the Social History of Art, 199-210. Leiden: Brill, 2018.

Gnann, A. Michelangelo: The Drawings of a Genius. Stuttgart and Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2010.

Haskell, F.  Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981.

Palma, B. (ed.), Museo Nazionale Romano. Le sculture 1.4: i Marmi Ludovisi, storia della Collezione. Milan: De Luca Editore, 1983.

Palma, B. L. de Lachenal and M.E. Micheli (eds.), Museo Nazionale Romano. Le sculture. I Marmi Ludovisi dispersi. I.6. Milan: De Luca Editore, 1986.

Russell, A. G. B.. Drawings by Guercino. London: E. Arnold & Co.,1923.

Russell, F. “The Derby Collection (1721-1735).” The Volume of the Walpole Society 53 (1987): 143–80.

Left: Hamlet Winstanley, Statue of Pan (1723), Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Credit: L. C. Bulman, Georgian Group Journal 12 (2002) 64. Right: Statue of Pan in July 2022, Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome (photo by the author).

Hatice Köroğlu Çam is a 2022 graduate of Rutgers University, with a degree in Art History, and has been researching the Statue of Pan under the direction of Professor T. Corey Brennan since January.  Hatice plans to pursue her academic journey towards a Ph.D. in Renaissance art. She expresses her sincerest gratitude to Professor Brennan for introducing her to this statue and encouraging her throughout the process of this research, for his translation of all Italian inventory documents, and his interpretations, guidance, and support. She extends a special thanks to HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for her wonderful encouragement and inspiration for this project.

NEW from 1861: Threatened by Italy’s unification, Pope Pius IX thanks a committee of Rome’s noblewomen for a lottery

An illustrated essay by Carol Cofone (Rutgers ’17) with the collaboration of Nicholas Eimer (Rutgers ’24)

Gilded bronze Papal medal for 1861, Year XVI of the reign of Pius IX (designed by C. Voigt); the reverse, with legend translated as “let my God close the mouths of the lions” (based on Daniel 6:22), is often understood as alluding to the main threats to the Papal States, namely Giuseppe Garibaldi and Vittorio Emanuele II. Credit: Editions V. Gadoury

Among the tens of thousands of archival documents newly found in the Casino dell’Aurora in 2010 by HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi is an extraordinary Papal letter dated 4 July 1861. Unpublished and apparently unknown, it is written in Latin and signed by Pope Pius IX Mastai Ferretti (reigned 1846-1878). The letter is addressed to an illustrious group of ten Roman noblewomen. They include:

(1) Adélaïde Marie Hortense Françoise de La Rochefoucauld, Princess Borghese (1796-1877), the mother-in-law of Gwendoline (Guendalina) Talbot

(2) Marie Flore Pauline d’Arenberg Aldobrandini (1823-1861) [note date of death]

(3) Maria Carolina Ferdinanda Luisa Lucchesi-Palli, Princess of Arsoli (1798-1871) (born de Borbón-Dos Sicilias)

(4) Thérèse de La Rochefoucauld, Princess Borghese (1823-1894), the second wife of Marcantonio Borghese (1843), after Gwendoline Talbot

(5) Antoinette zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, Princess of Campagnano (1839-1918) wife of Mario Chigi della Rovere Albani (1832-1914)

(6) Teresa Altieri Patrizi (1835-1887), the daughter of Clemente Altieri and Vittoria Boncompagni Ludovisi, wife of Marchese Francesco Patrizi Naro Montoro

(7) Rosalie Eustace, Marchesa Ricci-Paracciani (?-1909), the daughter of Lt. General Henry Eustace, wife of Marchese Giovanni Ricci-Paracciani

(8) Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi, Duchess of Sora (1836-1920), daughter of Gwendoline (Guendalina) Talbot, and wife of Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi

(9) Béatrice Archinto Altieri, Princess of Viano (1823-1890), wife of Emilio Altieri

(10) Arabella de Fitz-James, Duchess Salviati (1827-1903), wife of Scipione Salviati

Portrait of Gwendoline Catherine Talbot, Princess Borghese, by Roman artist Collati (1838). Credit: Marc-Arthur Kohn

Particularly notable among them is Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi, the daughter of Guendalina Talbot Borghese (1817-1840). Guendalina, though long deceased by the time Pius IX issued his letter, was a central figure among this group of women and a role model for her charitable works. The circumstances of her death raised her to the status of an unofficial saint in Rome.

Agnese is also the mother of Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1856-1935), who recounts the details of his grandmother Guendalina’s passing in his 1921 memoir Ricordi di mia madre (recently translated into English by the author and soon to be published):

The duties of wife and mother did not prevent Princess Guendalina from giving herself entirely to the works of the most sublime charity. The consequences of the cholera that had troubled Rome in 1835 prompted her pious activity: this great lady, dressed simply, began to walk the streets of our city going from house to house, visiting, comforting, subsidizing the poor and sick in every way; so that just her making an appearance was blessed by the people...

In October 1840…my Grandmother, gripped by a serious sore throat, was confined to bed…

My mother was four and a half years old, and she could not in any way realize the misfortune that was going to befall her…My Grandmother flew to heaven on the 27th of October. The funeral procession of her body through Rome from the Palace to the Borghese Chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore was one of the most crowded events of that time.

Archival envelope with notations (those of Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi at top) for letter of Pius IX dated 4 July 1861. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

An archival notation—written on an accompanying envelope, below Agnese’s note directing that the letter was to be saved by the family—gives a clue to our Papal letter’s content:

Brief official response to various Roman noblewomen, including Princess Duchess of Sora, Agnese Borghese Boncompagni, who volunteered to provide for the material needs of those afflicted by the grievous calamities.

Indeed, the Pope’s letter is an acknowledgement of the efforts of this group, which undertook a lottery at his behest. The prizes were gifts previously given to the Pope; he in turn donated them to this charitable cause, as he was wont to do.

One does not have to look far for other instances of Pius’ re-gifting presents. Indeed a few months after this letter, in October 1861, The Tablet (a British Catholic weekly, still published) printed an account that details Pius’ donation to the Immaculate Conception Charity, and offers the Pope’s own rationale for the practice. “When informed of our twenty thousand neglected children, the Holy Father turned to a beautiful painting on porcelain of the Sacred Heart of our Lord and the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady, which stood on his table in a rich frame, surmounted by the Papal arms and said ‘This has been a comfort to me in my trouble—it is a gift to me—but now I have nothing left to give except what is given to me. Let this go to the Orphans of London.”

First page of the unpublished 4 July 1861 letter of Pius IX to a group of Roman noblewomen. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

The Pope’s letter to the Roman noblewoman makes clear that the Pope had donated several gifts, which were offered through a lottery, the cause of which was to help the aforementioned “afflicted”. The letter’s full transcription (by Nicholas Eimer) and translation are as follows:

Pius IX

Dilectae in Christo filiae salutem et Apostolicam Benedictionem.

Cum plurima ac pretiosa dona Nobis universi catholici orbis fideles pro egregia eorum erga Nos, et hanc Sanctam sedem devotione offerre voluerint, nihil potius Nobis fuit, quam ut eisdem donis uteremur ad illas praesertim sublevandas familias, quae praesentibus luctuosissimis calamitatibus afflictae fuerunt.

Quocirca aleatoriam eorumdem donorum sortitionem statuendam, ejusque curam Vobis, Dilectae in Christo Filiae, omnino committendam esse existimavimus.

Certi enim eramus, Vos generis nobilitate, virtutis, religionis, pietatisque laude, et christianae caritatis studio praestantes, ac Nobis et huic Petri Cathedrae ex animo addictas hujusmodi rem libentissime esse peracturas, Nostrisque votis quam cumulatissime satisfacturas.

Atque ita evenit. Namque singulari prorsus cura, industria, diligentia vestram omnem operam in eadem sortitione conficienda impendistis; nihilque intentatum reliquistis, quo hujusmo de sortito optatum assequeretur exitum, veluti luculenter apparet ex ratione, quam Nobis per litteras pridie kalendas hujus mensis conscriptas reddere properastis.

Itaque alacri libentique animo has litteras ad Vos damus, quibus et debitas Vobis agimus gratias ac meritas amplissimasque tribuimus laudes pro eximia saneque re (?) quam Nobis in hac re iuxta Nostra desideria dedistis.

Pro certo autem habeatis velimus, praecipuam esse, qua Vos prosequimur, benevolentiam. Cujus quoque certissimum pignus accipite Apostolicam Benedictionem, quam ex intimo corde profectam, et cum omnis verae felicitatis voto conjunctam Vobis ipsis, Dilectae in Christo Filiae, vestrisque Nobilibus Familiis, et aliis omnibus, qui commemoratae sortitioni quovis modo suam Operam navarunt, peramanter impertimus.

Datum Romae apud S. Petrum die 4. Julii Anno 1861. Pontificatus Nostri Anno Decimosexto

Pius IX


Dilectis in Christo Filiabus Nobilibus Feminis

Adelaidi La Rochefoucauld Borghese

Mariae Aremberg Aldobrandini

Franciscae Lucchesi Palli Princip.

Avsoli T. La Rochefoucauld Princip. Borghese

Wittgenstein Princip. Campagnano

Theresiae Altieri Patrizi

Rosalinae Enstace March. Ricci

Agneti Borghese Boncompagni Duci Sorae

Beatrici Archinta Altieri Princip. Viano et

Arabellae De Fitz-James Duci Salviati

First page (detail) of the unpublished 4 July 1861 letter of Pius IX to a group of Roman noblewomen. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome


Beloved daughters in Christ—greeting and Apostolic blessing.

Though the faithful of the entire Catholic world has been willing to offer us many precious gifts on behalf of their outstanding devotion to us and this Holy See, there was nothing that we preferred, than to use these very gifts especially to alleviate those families who have been afflicted by the present extremely grievous calamities.

For this reason, we thought that we ought to establish a random lottery of these same gifts, and that we thought that its care should be entirely delegated to you, our beloved Daughters in Christ.

For we were certain, that you—outstanding in the nobility of family, virtue, religion, piety, and zeal for Christian charity, and passionately devoted to us and this Chair of Peter, most willingly would accomplish a project of this type, and that you would satisfy our wishes as fully as possible.

And so it has turned out.

For you spent all your efforts in accomplishing this same lottery, with singular care, industry, and diligence; and you have left nothing untried, so as to obtain the desired result from this lottery, as it appears clearly from the account which you hastened to render to us in a letter written on the eve of the first day of this month [i.e., 30 June 1861].

And so we give this letter to you with a hearty and cheerful spirit, in which we both offer the thanks due to you, and give you the most deserved and fulsome praises for the extraordinary and truly remarkable achievement (?) which you have given to us in this matter according to our desires.

But we want to assure you that the chief thing with which we honor you is goodwill. As also a most certain pledge of this, receive the Apostolic Blessing, which, proceeding from my innermost heart, and joined by a wish for all true happiness, for you yourselves, beloved Daughters in Christ, and for your Noble Families, and for all the others who, have in any way devoted their attention to the aforementioned lottery, we lovingly impart.

Second page (detail) of the unpublished 4 July 1861 letter of Pius IX to a group of Roman noblewomen. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

On the face of it, this letter would seem to be a polite acknowledgement of the philanthropic efforts of a dedicated group of elite church members and papal supporters. But the family archivist’s notation, and the words of Pius IX himself, alert us to how political events prior to 1861 shaped the perceptions of the Pope and the noble class that supported him, and thus the lives of these noblewomen.

The beneficiaries of this lottery, referred to in the Pope’s letter as families who have been afflicted by the present extremely grievous calamities, which is echoed in the archivist’s notation as “those afflicted by grievous calamities,” might seem to us modern readers as victims of a natural disaster. But a closer reading suggests otherwise.

A comparison with some of the other writings of Pius IX suggests an alternate connotation to the word calamities. The Latin phrase luctuosissimis calamitatibus was a common usage of the Pope’s speech writer, always rather vague but always apparently in reference to metaphorical calamities, especially theological and political. Often calamitates is joined with perturbationes, i.e., any shaking of the established order especially as it pertained to the Catholic establishment itself.

Thus there is a case to be make that the calamities Pius IX referred to in his letter to Agnese and her circle were the ones that grievously afflicted him first of all. It may be that the phrase referred to the events leading up to unification – in particular, to the campaign of Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Expedition of the Thousand, which lasted from April through July in 1860:

Medal (1860) commemorating the Sicilian campaign of the ‘Mille’, distributed to Garibaldini who disembarked at Marsala 11 May 1860. Credit: Bertolami Fine Arts

This brief account establishes a frame of reference.

A revolt in Sicily, beginning on 4 April 1860, caused Garibaldi to make the decision to begin with an attack on the Bourbon kingdom in the south. On the night of 5-6 May, he embarked from Quarto (a suburb of Genoa) with more than 1,000 men, mostly idealistic young northerners. Narrowly missing contact with the Bourbon Navy, the expedition landed at the western Sicilian port of Marsala on 11 May.

Garibaldi was faced with the problem of defeating more than 20,000 Neapolitan troops of the Bourbon King Francesco II in Sicily with an untrained force armed only with rusty rifles. After proclaiming himself dictator of Sicily in the name of Vittorio Emanuele II, he led his men across the island toward Palermo. He defeated a Neapolitan force at Calatafimi (15 May), and many Sicilians then joined him to help overthrow their hated Neapolitan rulers. Aided also by the incompetence of the Bourbon command, Garibaldi captured Palermo (6 June) and, with the Battle of Milazzo (20 July), won control of all Sicily except Messina.

Italian literature, specifically the short story “Bronte” published on 12 March 1882 in the magazine Literary Sunday by writer, playwright and Italian senator Giovanni Verga (1840-1922), offered a riveting version of what took place in August 1860 in the small town of Bronte in Sicily. He tells how the peasants in Bronte, having heard that Garibaldi was coming to free them, took it upon themselves to slaughter members of the elites who had authoritative roles in the town. When Garibaldi’s general arrived, he ordered that those murdering peasants be shot.

Panel 1860. Garibaldi, Altofonte e la rivolta dei contadini di Bronte (1955) depicting the massacre at Bronte, by Onofrio and Minico Ducato of Bagheria. Credit: CGIL

Thus, it may well be that Pius’s object in aiding those afflicted by the present extremely grievous calamities was to aid the more elite families caught up in the vicissitudes and violence occasioned by the unification of Italy. The lottery may have sought to help those kinds of families that previously had higher status, that were now being pressured by unification, not too unlike the noble papal families themselves. Agnese and her mother’s circle may well have been taking care of their own.

In fact, Pius himself was one of the first so afflicted. Early in the pages of Ricordi di mia madre, Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi gives us a list of some early grievous calamities—the political events of 1848 that drove Pius IX from Rome to Gaeta for his own safety.

Title page (1921) of Monsignor Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi’s memoir of his mother Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi (1836-1920)

Meanwhile, the assassination of [Pellegrino] Rossi [†15 November 1848], the behavior of the people and of the troops themselves who demonstrated on the 16th [i.e., of November 1848] at the Quirinale—which caused [Luigi Carlo] Farini to exclaim with grief: “the assassination and revolt celebrated as a triumph!”—the ministry that [Giuseppe] Galletti forced on the Pope, the Costituente Romana that was nearly forced on him, the manifesto of the new Government, even more the vote of the Chamber recorded in the session of the 20th [i.e., of November 1848]: all these things cause the Pope to leave Rome and, between the 24th and 25th, dressed as a simple priest, accompanied by Count Spaur, minister of Bavaria, and the Countess, who was Roman, Pius IX left.

Agnese, then a 12-year-old girl wrote of these events in her own diary. In Ricordi di mia madre we read her account of what happened when her family followed him there, with Ugo’s annotations in brackets:

Saturday, the 25th of November [1848].

Papa received the news of the Pope’s departure when I was having a history lesson; as he wanted to hide our departure from my teacher, I did not know until ten o’clock that they asked the teacher to wind the lesson up [the teacher, a very educated man that I knew well, held other political ideas, but it is clear that my Grandfather did not want to let him learn the serious event of the night before]. Maria [Maria Calamassi, the nanny and an excellent person from Tuscany; I knew her well too. With the exception of my Mother, all that generation of the Borghese had passed through her hands; she was the wife of my Grandfather’s faithful butler] had already left with the four children [Anna Maria later Marchesa Gerini, Paolo Prince Borghese, Francesco Duca di Bomarzo and Giulio later Prince Torlonia]. We [that is, Princess Teresa (i.e., de La Rochefoucauld) and my Mother] climbed into a carriage with my Grandmother and Aunt [the Duchess Arabella Salviati, born Fitz-James] and without bringing anything, we left via the Porta del Popolo. Then by the Villa [Villa Borghese] we met Papa and my Uncle [the Duke Don Scipione Salviati] near the vineyards where the children were. At Tor di Mezza Via [the first postal station on the Via Appia] we changed horses. [I remember that my Mother told me many times that my Grandfather had to resort to a little trickery to get these horses, because postal horses were not for the use of a private individual without a special permit: although no such permit was shown at the first post; nor at the successive ones, where the postmaster assumed we had one, they let us continue undisturbed]. Papà and my Uncle were seated on the coach box, and so all of us sadly continued on our journey. What tormented us most was not knowing where the Pope was…

Medal (1848, by V. Catenacci) of Ferdinand II di Borbone (reigned 1830-1859) marking Pius IX’s arrival on 26 November 1848 as an “exile” at the fortress of Gaeta. Credit: Numismatica Ranieri

“Sunday, the 26th [of November 1848].

“This morning we got up early and had breakfast with my Uncle Doria [Prince Filippo Doria, husband of the other Talbot sister, Lady Mary, and therefore my mother’s uncle and my grandfather’s brother-in-law. Let me remind you that my Grandfather, about to leave, had cautiously warned him] who arrived two hours after us and was obliged to sleep on a chair, finding nothing else. All together, we said prayers, most fervently for the Pope and for Rome that perhaps at this moment was in the hands of the demonstrators. We had no passports, but Count [Giacomo] Antonelli was able to let us pass, and so we arrived in Fondi [the first city of the Kingdom of Naples] to hear Mass. What a pleasure it was for us to stop there! We found a number of people gathered in the square, and when Papà asked why, they replied that the Pope had passed through. He had stopped there and left a few hours before. His nephew [I think he was Count Luigi Mastai, son of the Count Gabriel, firstborn of that family] was still there; he confirmed the news and told us that the Pope had gone to Gaeta. We then went to Mass, which was in thanksgiving for us to have, without knowing it, followed the Pope. The Doria family was, like us, delighted by this news, and immediately we all left for Gaeta; it seemed that the displeasure of having left Rome had been replaced by the pleasure of meeting up with the Pope…

“As soon as we arrived in Gaeta, Papà went to the Pope who was still at the Giardinetto Inn, and he seemed very happy to see that he was not abandoned by everyone.”

These details shed light on the family’s experience as a social and political class under siege. It is telling that three of the women involved in the enterprise of the Pope’s lottery in 1860 were involved in this flight to safety in November 1848. They themselves were afflicted by these grievous calamities, and later calamities that followed.

Ugo’s telling of how his parents responded to the events of 1860 shows their continuing loyalty to the Pope:

In the summer of 1860 we were in Paris and at the baths of Sainte-Adresse, three kilometers from Le Havre. I remember understanding that political events caused our return to Rome. (François XIV) De La Rochefoucauld, who was already appointed when he was in Rome and who was now in French diplomacy, came one morning to Paris to my Mother—while the occupation of le Marche and Umbria was underway—and he briefly mentioned serious political events in Italy. He suggested that, if they wanted to return to Rome without difficulty, they leave immediately. We left, we went – it was then the quickest way – by sea from Marseilles to Civitavecchia…Though newspapers and news from Rome announced the entry of Garibaldi’s troops into the small remnant of the Papal State, my family did not want to be far away.

Perhaps this firsthand experience reinforced their commitment to their charitable undertakings in 1860—and those that followed later—through which they strove to take care of their own.

To understand this definition of who was “their own” we return once again to Ugo’s Ricordi di mia madre.

He writes of another class of individuals who were afflicted by these calamitous events: the Papal Zouaves. They were a corps of volunteers formed as part of the Army of the Papal States. They were young, unmarried, Roman Catholic men, who volunteered to assist Pope Pius IX in his struggle against the Italian Risorgimento. The Papal Zouaves assisted in the notable Franco/Papal victory at the Battle of Mentana on 3 November 1867, where the sustaining 81 casualties in the battle, including 24 killed.

Accused Lincoln assassination conspirator John Surratt (1844-1916) in the uniform of a Papal Zouave ca. 1866; he served briefly with the Pontifical Zouaves under an alias before recognition, arrest, and extradition to the United States. Credit: Library of Congress

Ugo gives us greater insight into the Battle of Mentana via his account of a conversation between his mother Agnese and Zouave commander Baron Athanase Charles Marie de Charette, and reinforces another connection to the noblewomen engaged in the Pope’s philanthropy.

At the end of November of that year, some people took part in a battle at Mentana. The then Lieutenant Colonel of the Zouaves, Baron de Charette, who had led the regiment in the attack, was in the group and explained the stages of the action; The regiment swept through Via Nomentana, passed the Capobianco crossroads and continued for three or four kilometers. There, he said, the fight had begun. My mother then asked him what a soldier felt in that instant, and de Charette immediately replied with sincerity and military roughness: “One is afraid, and whoever tells you otherwise, is lying; then slowly things change, there is a state of almost intoxication that makes everyone forget, but, again, at the beginning one is afraid.”…de Charette had a soldier’s soul…His first wife was a Fitz-James, sister of my mother’s aunt, Duchess Arabella Salviati, already mentioned here several times.

These afflicted soldiers drew the attention of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family and Agnese’s circle of noblewomen in 1867. As Ugo explains,

It is well known that papal soldiers wounded during the campaign in Rome (which then took its name from Mentana) were treated with great Christian charity. Wounded Garibaldini, who were much more numerous, were also treated with no less kindness. My father was a regular in those hospitals, especially in the one open near Sant’ Agata de’ Goti; and it was there, it seems to me, that he knew, or at least strengthened his relationship with Count (Emanuele) De Bianchi, a distinguished gentleman from Bologna, who became his collaborator in the work I will now discuss…

In Rome, where even the Pontiffs had always taken care, in their numerous demonstrations, to assist all the miseries of our poor humanity, there was no institute for the education of blind children

Ugo goes on to describe how Pius IX appointed a commission to provide for the needs of the blind,

composed of my Father (Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi), who was President; Father (Bernardino Secondo) Sandrini, General of the Somaschi; Count Emanuele De Bianchi—Vice President; Marquis Girolamo Cavalletti—Treasurer; Dr. Vincenzo Diorio; and the accountant Filippo Giangiacomo—Secretary.

Letter of congratulations from students of the Institute for the Blind at Sant’ Alessio (Rome) to Rodolfo and Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary (31 May 1904); Rodolfo had served as honorary president of the Institute since its foundation in 1868. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

But then he describes how “the Lord” provided for the actual work to be done:

Alongside this commission, Our Lord provided others, of whom my Mother was the soul. Besides my Mother, there were the Princesses Odescalchi, Rospigliosi, Lancellotti di Sarsina and Sulmona and the Marquises Cavalletti Heron and Ricci…It was necessary to begin the formation of a foundation to provide for minor set-up costs during the first year of life of the nascent Institute. Rightly the institute did not want to rely on the munificence of the Pope for everything and so considered holding a great lottery. But the Princess Rospigliosi (born de Nompère de Champagny) who was no less full of ideas than my Mother, proposed a Charity Bazaar…The idea was accepted, and the number of Ladies and Gentlemen who wished to contribute to the success of the event grew.

Ugo goes on to share the details of how this incredible matriarchal charitable machine, built upon its noble foundations, expanded its mission in the year 1869. Their efforts may well have served as a model for other charitable groups who undertook charity bazaars throughout Europe in the following years. Inspired by Guendalina and masterminded by Agnese, whose experience in supporting the Pope and responding to calamities dated back to 1848, it was a formula for success:

I remember that they gathered again and again in my Mother’s salons at the Villa Ludovisi. So many gave so much effort to this charity fair. I have the dates of these meetings, so close to each other, that they tell us with how much feverish activity they proceeded. The meetings were held on the 14th, 17th, 19th and 22nd of January [i.e., 1869]. The day chosen for the fair was the Friday of Carnevale, February 5th: the day the so-called Corso was being held.

In addition to the above mentioned ladies, Princess Pallavicini, the Duchess of Fiano, my father’s two sisters [i.e., Maria Carolina and Giulia Boncompagni Ludovisi], and then Donna Matilde Lante, the Countess of Cellere neé Capranica, the Princess of Campagnano, the Princess of Teano, the Countess Lutzof, the Marchesa Clotilde Vitelleschi, Princess Barberini, Duchess Torlonia, the Duchess of Gallese, Marchesa Sacchetti, Duchess Salviati, Countess Bracceschi, Marchesa Marini, Princess of Scilla, Contessa Bruschi, Baroness Kanzler, Marchesa Serlupi, the Princess Giustiniani-Bandini and the Princess of Viano were also recruited.

The gentlemen added to the Commission were the Marquis Guido Bourbon del Monte, Don Mario and Don Giulio Grazioli, Don Baldassarre Odescalchi, the Baron de Charette, the Prince of Sulmona, the Prince of Sarsina, the Marquis Maurizio Cavalletti.

The work entrusted to such a select group of people could not fail to be fully successful. The Town Hall granted the beautiful rooms of the Palazzo dei Conservatori; the best military concert, that of the Gendarmes, an excellent concert of that time, apparently played in the courtyard. The stalls for sale evidently were prepared by the Institute Commission; the newly recruited ladies in particular were  given the task of selling the tickets; everyone was tasked with getting items from the best artists and shopkeepers for the sale itself.

The Sala degli Orazi in Rome’s Palazzo dei Conservatori, venue of 1869 charity bazaar co-organized by Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi

In the Sala degli Orazi, at the foot of the statue of Urban VIII by Bernini, was the bench with the gifts of the Pope: watched over by the Odescalchi and Rospigliosi Princesses; at the foot of the other statue, that of Innocent X, was a great kiosk of flowers entrusted to the Princesses Giustiniani-Bandini, Scilla and Donna Matilde Lante. At the entrance of the Sala dei Capitani, I still see it, at a counter that would remind you of a window at a post office, was the Princess Pallavicini. Thanks to all her connections, that window was always crowded, and those who asked if there were letters addressed to them received in elegant envelopes a witticism, a proverb, some bits of verse: all this, well I remember, had been carefully prepared by my Mother. The highly educated Countess Desbassains de Richemond presided over the fine arts; the Princesses of Viano and the Marquise Marini, the knick knacks; the Baroness Kanzler, the party favors; the Princess Barberini and the Countess Lucernari, the sacred objects; the Countess of Campello, the toys and the Roman pearls. A grab bag, a kind of surprise package, was held by the Marchese Cavalletti Herron. In the Sala dei Capitani, the one with the statues that recall Marcantonio Colonna, Alessandro Farnese and other great names, the crowd gathered at the pastry counter entrusted to Princess Windisch-Gratz, the Duchess of Fiano and the Countess of Cellere; an even denser crowd crammed around the great tea table where the Duchess Salviati, the Princesses of Sulmona and Rospigliosi and the Contessas Bracceschi and La Ferronays were.

The Piazza del Campidoglio could not contain the carriages, so they were forced to wait in the Piazza d’Aracoeli below. The great halls gathered in those four hours—because the Bazaar opened at one and closed at five pm—as much as the aristocratic and elegant world, both Italian and foreign, could lavish, all attracted by the nobility of the gentlemen, by the dignity of the environment, by the novelty of the party. I still see that large, courtly crowd, happy!

The financial result could not be more flattering. Note that Rome had then little more than two hundred thousand inhabitants, that the value of money, both absolute and relative, was many times superior to the present. By 5:00 pm, 20,667.64 Lire had been collected; moreover, an account had given an annuity of 50 Lire and some of the gifts offered by the Pope were still unsold. The expenses were relatively minimal: the objects purchased for sale came to 3,729 Lire, the decorations 680 Lire, printing, gratuities and other things 165.70 Lire; so, besides the annuity and the objects given by the Holy Father, by 5 o’clock the net was a good 16,092.94 Lire. About two thirds of this sum was reinvested and went to form the principle of that foundation of the ophthalmic Institute, which today normally welcomes more than forty blind boys and girls.

I do not think it is wrong to state that the most majority of the credit for that happy success went to my Mother; I remember very well the day that I spent, a happy boy, in all those majestic, crowded, elegant rooms. I had sketchy memories of those figures. I still had the names in my head of many of those ladies; but now I wanted and have been able to clarify and do justice to these memories. Although the event itself is small, it is at the beginning of the foundation of that Institute, which has, as I said, assumed so much importance; and I kept reminding myself that this work of true charity owes no small part of its beginnings to my parents.

Pius IX as portrayed in F. and Ph. Benoist, Rome Dans Sa Grandeur (Paris 1870)

By 1870, Pius IX had become the self-proclaimed “Prisoner of the Vatican”. By 1886, the Boncompagni Ludovisi had subdivided and sold most of the Villa Ludovisi. By 1889, the commune of Rome had expropriated their Palazzo Piombino newly constructed on Via Veneto. Clearly the political and social forces leveled against the elite class of noble Papal families was marginalizing them.

For that reason, Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi stands today as a model of how a noble family’s values were preserved across generations, despite “extremely grievous calamities.” Agnese and her fellow Roman noblewomen, at the Pope’s bidding, did very successfully provide for their own. But over time, they redefined “their own” as a larger, more inclusive group, and championed them on an even grander scale.

Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi, Princess of Piombino, ca. 1910. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Carol Cofone, Assistant Director of the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi, has been associated with the project since 2014. She is a 2017 graduate of Rutgers, with a degree in Italian and a certificate in Historic Preservation. She is grateful to HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for providing access to her private archive, and for her encouragement. She thanks Nicholas Eimer (Rutgers Honors College ’24) for his careful transcription of the Pius IX letter, and Professor T. Corey Brennan for his invaluable guidance and support.

NEW from 1786/7: Cardinal (& Vatican Secretary of State) Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi receives an urgent request for a matrimonial dispensation

By Emilie Puja (Rutgers ’25)

Medal (1778, engraved by F. Balugani) with images of Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1743-1775-1790), on the reverse receiving homage from a grateful personification of Bologna. Credit: Numismatica Ranieri Asta 7 Lot 10 (16 Nov 2014).

One of the high points of the private Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi in the Villa Aurora, brought to light by HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2010, is a large cache of hundreds of letters addressed to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1743-1790). The seventh of nine children of Gaetano Boncompagni (Prince of Piombino from 1745-1777) and Laura Chigi, Ignazio was made Cardinal by Pope Pius VI in 1775 and served as his Secretary of State from 29 June 1785 to 30 September 1789, when he resigned because of illness.

As Cardinal and especially as Vatican Secretary of State, Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi evidently engaged in a massive exchange of letters, with correspondents ranging from European sovereigns such as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France—25 of their letters from Versailles are in the Villa Aurora archive—to humble petitioners.

One of the most arresting letters to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi is from a Milanese parish priest, Gerolamo Guglielmetti (1713-1788). A native of the Alpine town of Arosio in Lombardy, Guglielmetti was a member of the Oblates of Saints Ambrose and Charles. He taught in various seminaries in Lombardy and served as prefect of studies at Milan’s Collegio Elvetico.

Excerpt from unsigned bibliographical note on the Milanese priest G. Guglielmetti in Bollettino storico della svizzera italiana 9.5 (1887) 64-65, 85-88

An expert in canon law, Guglielmetti also wrote poetry, philosophical works, and orations in both Latin and Italian, some of which were published in his lifetime. His works prompted his induction into an elite Milanese literary society, the Accademia dei Trasformati.

In his letter to the Cardinal, the priest’s writing—in polished Latin—appears scrawled, reaching the edges of the pages and awkwardly splitting words at the end of several lines. In fact, an archival copy had been created for the sake of legibility; both versions were then inserted into a file of the Cardinal’s correspondence marked “1786-1789.” These qualities indicate a great sense of urgency from Guglielmetti, as well as a degree of importance that warranted a copy being made. He wrote with such haste that he failed to include the year in which he was writing, even shortening the month “Septembris” to “7bris.” Thus, the date on the letter is the 16th of September of an unspecified year. It should belong to 1786 or 1787, since the priest died on 10 February 1788. A translation of the letter reads as follows:

The original letter from G. Guglielmetti to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Most Holy Father

Aloysius Cozi and Marianna Agudi, both of the Diocese of Milan, subject to the Austrian empire, both of good morals, honorably both desire to contract a marriage between themselves most passionately, but the second degree of kinship hinders their most fervent desire. So that they can remove that impediment, they have asked from the Emperor the ability of making an appeal to the Apostolic Seat. Cesar truly so granted their request, when he added this condition, he would recognize an Apostolic dispensation, provided that it was freely granted. This most troublesome situation has thrust the unfortunate spouses into very painful difficulties, from which they cannot escape unless most holy Father’s your kindness and favor bring help. And thus, having groveled at your feet, they beg and beseech, so that you consider their need with a free dispensation, and you oppose the peril of their hearts. Although indeed now they may be honest, modest, religious, and disciplined, nevertheless we are taught courteously the weakness of the mind by long-lasting experience by the incessant blows of a striving enemy to be limited and to be disturbed and to yield easily. Now for a long time indeed they struggle with this most bitter anxiety, and longed-for marriage with such a tedious delay interposed, perhaps they might have surrendered to sorrow, and to grief, had not this extremely pleasant hope sustained their minds, so that the wisdom and kindness of Pius the Sixth most loving Father of all will bring healing to such troubles. They were reflecting indeed in their own mind, the Sixth Pope Pius, whose beloved Germany, and other very distant provinces traversing so many nations, and so many Peoples different in pursuits and morals, indeed all admired him with unanimous agreement. They also were not ignorant that so great a Pope did not lack wisdom, with which he would decide a favorable rescript in this singular case, and thus cautiously and sensibly he would provide, so that it cannot be prolonged and transferred as an example to other cases. But they were thinking…… But at length what of good and of praise about the Pope were they not thinking, not so much because of his excellence as his virtues! So many and so noble, magnificent, and extraordinary things they were imagining, that with their sighs, tears, grievances, and prayers had led me to take part in their most determined hope, that the Apostolic rescript would be propitious, and with that same courage they urge the Pope of the whole world, and the entire church I would dare to devote attention to the worries given in the letter, from whom, while I will come bent down, I beseech on my bent knees, kissing your feet I implore Father’s blessing.

Writing on the 16th day of September in Milan

Most humble and obedient son

Priest Gerolamo Guglielmetti

Milan Metropolitan Church

The archival copy of the letter from G. Guglielmetti to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Guglielmetti begins the letter with a direct explanation of the situation. “Aloysius Cozi” (Baron Luigi Cozzi, 1756-1826) and “Marianna Agudi” (the noble Marianna Agudio Andreetti, 1767-1824) “most passionately” desire to marry. But the “second degree of kinship,” connects them, preventing the pair from marrying without a dispensation from the Pope, i.e., Pius VI, who reigned from 1775 to 1799.

For permission to ask the Pope, we are told that the couple first had to contact the Holy Roman Emperor—Joseph II, who reigned 1765-1790. While the Emperor provisionally had granted their request, he required that the Pope’s dispensation be provided without payment. We can only assume that the clear urgency in the letter was associated with the couple’s “very painful difficulties,” which go unspecified.

What does Guglielmetti mean by the “second degree of kinship”? Canon law currently considers siblings to be the second degree and first cousins to be the fourth degree. But at the time of this letter, canon law had been using the Germanic method of determining kinship (in which first cousins are the second degree) since the early Middle Ages, continuing through the 1917 codification of canon law, until the 1983 codification of canon law changed the classification system.

The exact familial relationship between Luigi Cozzi and Marianna Agudio Andreetti is unclear due to present uncertainties, despite their nobility, about their family trees. From our available evidence, the pair were almost certainly not siblings. Guglielmetti’s expertise in canon law supports that his words “second degree of kinship” meant that the pair were first cousins.

Here is what little is known. First and most importantly, Marianna’s funerary inscription confirms that she and Luigi Cozzi married, and that she spent the last 25 years of their marriage (i.e., 1799-1824) painfully ill. So they must have been successful in gaining their dispensation.

Text of the inscription on Marianna Agudio Andreetti’s funerary monument. From G. Casati (ed.), Collezione delle iscrizioni lapidarie poste nei cimiteri di Milano dalla loro origine all’anno 1845 col nome dei signori architetti che delinearono i principali monumenti (Milano 1852)

Before their relationship, Luigi was married to one Camilla Bressi, with whom he had his son Giovanni Battista Cozzi (1780-1842), who inherited his title of Baron. This first wife must have died between 1780 and 1787. Luigi Cozzi having been a widower provides a motive for the second marriage, since he had a son aged 6 or 7. No children are known from Luigi’s union with his second wife Marianna.

One substantial fact is known about Luigi Cozzi’s life that shows how he displayed his high social station. From 1813 to 1822, Cozzi owned a box (Proscenio, 3, ordine destro) at Teatro alla Scala in Milan: a private, personalized space from which his family watched operas. This space was later owned by his first son, as well.

Luigi Cozzi’s box at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, with annotation by the author. Credit: Google Maps

On her funerary monument, Marianna’s surname is listed as “Agudio Andreotti.” Our sources show both “Andreetti” and “Andreotti” as spellings of the surname, so she must be somehow connected to the prominent Milanese noble named Agostino Agudio Andreetti, who died of suicide in 1796. The wife of this man is presently unknown, but they had at least two children: Giovanni Battista (1764-1832, said to be “celibate” on his tombstone) and Teresa (who outlived her brother).

How does Marianna Agudio Andreetti fit into their family tree? The easiest solution is that she belongs to Agostino’s family, as an unattested daughter or niece, and (somehow) a first cousin to Luigi Cozzi. But it is not impossible that Marianna may have been a Cozzi by birth, briefly married to an unattested son of Agostino Agudio Andreetti—or to Giovanni Battista Agudio Andreetti himself. (Though his inscription states that he was never married, there is the possibility that he simply wanted a short-lived marriage to Marianna to be forgotten). Whatever the case, we can take the priest’s word that Marianna and Luigi were related, i.e., as siblings or cousins.

Two hypothetical family trees for the Cozzi and Agudio Andreetti families of later 18th century Milan

The specific date of the marriage is unknown. But it likely took place before Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi resigned as Vatican Secretary of State on 30 September 1789, since he was the recipient of the letter tasked with obtaining approval from the Pope, and the petitioner is emphatic that there was a need for speed.

We may, however, have a possible location for the wedding: the Oratorio di S. Francesco d’Assisi, a small parish church in Palazzo Uboldi (or Villa Venini-Uboldi), which was once property of Luigi’s father (Ufficiatura Sacerdote Pietro Cozzi).

Palazzo Uboldi and the interior of the Oratorio di S. Francesco d’Assisi. Credit: Wikidata and “Il Sito di Andrea Fracassi

In sum, this letter offers an example of how the Church worked in Austrian-occupied Milan, particularly in regard to canon law. To marry a family member within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity, the couple ultimately might require permission from the Emperor for their priest to contact the Vatican Secretary of State for a (hopefully) free dispensation from the Pope.

Was such a dispensation difficult to acquire? In this case, Guglielmetti states that the process has been “tedious,” with only the hope for a dispensation sustaining the minds of the couple. He appears to compare delays of their marriage to “the incessant blows of a striving enemy.” While we are not given more specific details, the process must have been long and uncertain. Accordingly, the first half of the letter attempts to garner sympathy for the couple. The second half of the letter sings praises of Pope Pius VI, and concludes with the assurance that Guglielmetti begs on his knees and kisses the Pope’s feet. Overall, the letter encapsulates a desperate effort to appeal to the emotions of those with the power to provide a dispensation, indicating the difficulty of gaining approval for a marriage within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity.

Cardinal Ignatius Boncompagni Ludovisi, from the frontispiece of N. Martelli (ed.), Hortus Romanus VI (Rome 1780). Credit: New York Public Library

Emilie Puja is a sophomore in the Honors College at Rutgers University. She intends to major in both Information Technology and Informatics and Classical Humanities. Emilie is a summer 2022 intern, and will be an Aresty Research Assistant for the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi during the 2022-2023 school year. She would like to express her gratitude to Dr. T Corey Brennan for his guidance and encouragement throughout her research, as well as HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for providing access to her private archive, particularly the unpublished and uncatalogued Lettere di Sovrani.

Recovering the remains of a princess: the search in Fascist Rome for the body of Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese

An illustrated essay by Abigail Cosgrove (Kutztown University ’22)

Image (detail) of tomb of Princess Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese in its original location in the church of S Lucia de’ Ginnasi, Rome. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

On 4 January 1936, a small group in Rome began their search at 9 AM for a tomb in the church of S Lucia de’ Ginnasi. The church was marked for demolition by Mussolini’s regime. The search party was headed by Pietro Ascenzi, the inspector of the Verano cemetery, and Fernando Ceccarelli, the director of funeral services for the city. Prince Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi, a former Governor of Rome (1928-1935), accompanied this search. He was joined by Alessandro Rocchi, the head administrator of the Boncompagni Ludovisi estate. This story unfolds from a previously unknown and unpublished dossier of documents, dating to the mid-1930s, from the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi.

Dossier (1935-1936) on the attempt to find the remains of Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese. From the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi in the Casino dell’Aurora. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

The group’s object? To find a coffin that held the body of Princess Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese (1642-1695), the Prince’s sixth great aunt. Princess Eleonora was commemorated in the church by a massive late Baroque tomb monument. This masterpiece measured 12 feet wide and 12 feet tall, and reflected Eleonora’s large personality. However, it was critical to locate Eleonora’s actual remains before they were destroyed along with the church. Though tirelessly examining the area of S Lucia and its crypt, the men were unable to locate the niche that held the Princess’s body. After a full three days, late in the afternoon of 7 January, Inspector Ascenzi and Prince Boncompagni Ludovisi concluded that there was a chance of the Princess’ remains being located inside the marble monument itself.

Who was Princess Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese? As it happens, Caroline Castiglione and Suzanne Scanlan have recently (2017) written an excellent exposition of her life (see Sources below). Eleonora and her twin brother Gregorio were born in 1642 to Ugo Boncompagni (1614-1676, Duke of Sora from 1628) and Maria Ruffo di Bagnara (1620-1705), who had married the previous year. Eleven siblings would follow. On 22 October 1658, Eleonora married the Prince of Sulmona, Giovanni Battista Borghese, at the age of sixteen. Her new husband was three years her senior.

The connections and wealth of the newlywed couple were extraordinary. The young Borghese prince had close family links to Popes Paul V Borghese (1605-1621) and Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623), a more distant tie to Sixtus V (1585-1590), and a stepfather who was a nephew of Innocent X Pamphili (1644-1655). Giovanni Battista also was the sole heir of the extensive Borghese properties in the Papal States and in the Kingdom of Naples. This inheritance made him the richest of the Roman aristocracy, and one of the richest men in Europe.

Portrait of Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese, attributed to Jacob Ferdinand Voet (1639-ca.1700), Museum of Fine Arts of Nantes. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Eleonora had significant family wealth and property. She also enjoyed a wholly unique status among the established Papal aristocracy: Eleonora was great-great-granddaughter of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni (reigned 1572-1585). The pair would have four children, born in rapid succession, each of whom lived to adulthood: Marcantonio (1660), Anna Camilla (1662), Paolo (1663), and Scipione (1666).

The Princess Borghese, like many wealthy women of her era—chief among them her husband’s grandmother Camilla Orsini Borghese (1603-1685)—energetically participated in religious and artistic patronage. Eleonora was passionate about supporting several different convents, and had a particularly deep connection to the nuns of the Tor De’ Specchi, at the base of the Campidoglio in Rome. She formed many deep friendships in this centrally-located and socially prestigious convent, and often spent her free time and holidays there. But what especially marked Eleonora was her free-spirited and independent nature, remarkable for a woman of her time and lofty social station.

In March 1692, Eleonora’s youngest child, Scipione, passed away unexpectedly at age 26. She was overwhelmed with grief, and the tragedy strained her relationship with her husband. Haunted by memories of her son in the Palazzo Borghese in Rome, Eleonora separated from her husband Giovanni Battista. She relocated successively in two convents in Rome, first at the monastery of the Sette Dolori in Trastevere, then in that of the Turchine at S Maria Maggiore. In truth, at this point, the Princess’s relationships with most of her family were far from cordial. Additionally, Eleonora was struggling physically. She suffered from muscular pain and circulatory problems.

Portrait of Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese, by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639–1709). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the summer of 1692, the sick princess, still at the convent of the Turchine, asked her husband for a change of accommodations. She hoped to move to a well-aired section of the Palazzo Borghese or into one of the family’s country villas. However, her husband wanted her to return to her designated space in the Palazzo. Eleonora was against this proposition. She felt her rooms in the palace were too exposed to the summer heat and would worsen her condition.

What eventually happened shocked contemporary sensibilities. Before she received official permission from the Vatican and without the consent of her husband, Eleonora abruptly departed from the convent of the Turchine. The Princess exited in a procession of five carriages accompanied by a staff of over 20. At first, she stayed in the home of her twin brother and his wife (as of 1681) Ippolita Ludovisi—the Villa Ludovisi in Rome—and then elsewhere in the historical city center. Eleonora was never to be fully forgiven by her husband.

Tomb (1702-1705) of Princess Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese in its original location in the church of S Lucia de’ Ginnasi, Rome. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Eleonora died on 29 September 1695, at 53 years old, far from the Borghese palace. In her will, the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Corpus Domini—with their church of S Lucia dei Ginnasi on Via delle Botteghe Oscure— were named Eleonora’s principal heirs. Why? Perhaps because her husband’s grandmother, Camilla Orsini Borghese, had decamped to this convent, also against family wishes, almost 30 years previous, and taken religious vows. In her final will, Eleonora was explicit in her wish to be buried in the Carmelites’ church, and not the Borghese family chapel in the basilica of S Maria Maggiore. For their part, the nuns commissioned a magnificent tomb monument for their patron, executed in the church’s “Chapel of the Crucifix” by the architect Giovanni Battista Contini (a pupil of Bernini) and the sculptor Andrea Fucigna in the years 1702-1705.

First paragraphs of will of Princess Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese, written in her own hand on 21 May 1695; a codicil dated to 4 September of the same year follows; she would die on 29 September 1695. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Let us now skip forward 230 years, to Fascist Italy. Benito Mussolini attempted to reconstruct many aspects of Rome. He encouraged the demolition of even centuries-old landmarks, to widen the streets and isolate select ancient monuments deemed of special cultural significance. Unfortunately, many historic sites and neighborhoods were destroyed in this process, and tens of thousands of ordinary Romans were displaced, their means of livelihood often also eradicated. The church of S Lucia de’ Ginnasi was no exception to this policy, with its tomb that commemorated Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese being just one of several important monuments within its walls.

Prince Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi understandably wanted to save his ancestor Eleonora’s monument from being destroyed with the rest of the church of S Lucia de’ Ginnasi. Therefore, the ex-Governor forcefully expressed his desire for the monument to be relocated to a different church and communicated this idea to the Director of Fine Arts by letter.

Article on the destruction of the church of S Lucia de’ Ginnasi in Rome. From L’Illustrazione Vaticana VIII no. 6 (1-16 March 1937)

In this letter, Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi stated that before the total demolition of the church, Eleonora’s monument must be dismantled. This was especially important because he believed there were remains of the Princess inside. He also requested that the monument be rebuilt in the church of S Ignazio. The church was built primarily by the Ludovisi and was the final resting place of Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi (reigned 1621-1623) and his nephew Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1621-1632), as well as many other family members through the Napoleonic era.

Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi submitted this idea to the decision of Professor Antonio Muñoz in the Office of Antiquities and Fine Arts, which he trusted to safely relocate the monument. However, there was one condition: that no expenses be attributed to the Prince. If the monument ended up in a warehouse and not a church, the Prince threatened to take it back into direct possession. Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi added that he would be grateful for relevant updates on the process, especially if the actual sarcophagus of the long-deceased princess was discovered.

The Verano Inspector and the Office of Fine Arts successfully performed the dismantling (and later, rebuilding) of the monument. However, they had no luck in finding the mortal remains of Princess Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese. Her tomb monument was relocated not in S Ignazio but in the comparatively remote 13th-century church of S Alessio on the Aventine Hill. It is not readily clear how that choice, made by the Office of Fine Arts, came about. One factor may have been that the Boncompagni Ludovisi had a special connection with a school for blind children located at S Alessio since 1929. Other links are not apparent.

Tomb of Princess Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese as it stands today in the church of S Alessio on the Aventine in Rome. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

There is a startling epilogue. On 6 October 1937, workers of a construction firm, the Impresa Castelli, were intent on digging in the area where the church of S Lucia had formerly stood. At this site, a lead sarcophagus was found. On the lid, there was carved in relief a dragon—the ancient heraldic symbol of the Boncompagni family. Furthermore, on the lid there was a plate with a fragmented inscription. It read: BONC[OMP]AGNI.

The incredible discovery of Eleonora’s remains was witnessed by the Verano inspector Pietro Ascenzi, plus principals of the construction firm: the site manager Carlo Bonfiglio, the engineer Giuseppe Prandelli, and the surveyor Aldo Petrelli. And on 21 February 1938 the bones of Eleonora, now encased in a new lead box, were deposited beneath the pavement of S Alessio.

And so came to a close a remarkable story, reconstructed from unpublished documents, that intertwines a family saga from the highest ranks of old Papal Rome, the monumental remembrance of noblewomen in early modern Italy, an individual’s advocacy for his ancestor’s monument and remains, all against the background of urban planning and destructive interventions in the Fascist era.

Document from the Archivio Boncomoagni Ludovisi dated 5 June 1936, showing that the search for the remains of Princess Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese extended to the Borghese family crypt in S Maria Maggiore, without success. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome


Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi (Villa Aurora) prot. 592 no. 27A [unpublished dossier]

Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi, Vita della Venerabile Camilla Orsini Borghese (Rome: Libreria Salesiana, 1931)

Caroline Castiglione, Accounting for Affection: Mothering and Politics in Early Modern Rome (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

Caroline Castiglione and Suzanne Scanlan, “Death Did Not Become Her: Unconventional Women and the Problem of Female Commemoration in Early Modern Rome”, Early Modern Women 11.2 (2017) 59-93

Giuseppe Felici, Ugo Boncompagni, IV Duca di Sora (1614-1676). Unpublished manuscript, Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi (ca. 1949?)

Abigail Cosgrove is a senior majoring in Art History and minoring in History at Kutztown University. She is a spring 2022 intern for the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi. Abigail is from Scranton, PA. She writes: “I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. T. Corey Brennan (Rutgers) for introducing me to the topic of Eleonora Boncompagni Borghese. His encouragement and help throughout the process of writing this article are deeply appreciated. I also want to extend a thank you to HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for giving interns access to materials from her private archive. Last, I am grateful to Dr. Pierette Kulpa (Kutztown) for connecting me with this opportunity and for her continued academic advisement.”

Giuseppe Vasi (1710-1782), view of Santa Lucia alle Botteghe Oscure, Rome ca. 1785. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A new self-portrait of Michelangelo? The statue of Pan at the Casino dell’Aurora in Rome. Part I: Correspondences

By Hatice Köroglu Çam (Rutgers ’22)

The southeast facade of the Casino dell’Aurora, Rome, with Pan attributed to Michelangelo at center. Credit: HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

A statue of Pan, for centuries located in the garden of Rome’s Villa Ludovisi, since 1901 has stood unprotected outside the southeast wing of the Casino dell’Aurora. Traditionally attributed to Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475- 1564), and once deemed of great monetary value (4000 scudi in a 1749 Boncompagni Ludovisi inventory), it undoubtedly exhibits characteristic features of the master’s sculptural language.

Yet most surprisingly there is no detailed study focusing on this statue. The most recent treatments, that of Maria Elisa Micheli (Museo Nazionale Romane: Le Sculture I.6 I marmi Ludovisi dispersi [1986]) and Fernando Loffredo (in a 2018 essay “Pirro Ligorio’s Sculpture”) each fills not quite a page and a half. Micheli dismisses seventeenth and eighteenth century attributions of the Pan to Michelangelo, considering it instead “a modern work of the late sixteenth century”. Loffredo, following a suggestion of Francesco Caglioti, pronounces it confidently as a work of Michelangelo’s assistant Giovann’Angelo da Montorsoli (1507-1563), on the basis of the personal relationship between the two.

‘Pan’ attributed to Michelangelo at the Casino dell’Aurora. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Photo credit: TC Brennan

These verdicts strike me as too hasty. After comparing the stylistic language of the Pan to that of Michelangelo in a wide range of his sculptures, paintings, and drawings, I have come to the conclusion that even if the sculpture is not by Michelangelo, it highlights many features of his style to a remarkable extent. And those attributes are recognizable even given the fact that the Pan today shows an unfortunate loss of details, especially the face—clear when comparing historic photos of the statue (from 1885) with its present state.

The statue in 1885, as it stood for about 275 years, close by the Aurelian Walls that bounded the Villa Ludovisi to the north. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Photo credit: Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913)

My first point is a basic one. This Pan is consistent with the sculptor’s particular interest in antiquity, from Greek mythology to Hellenistic sculpture. Michelangelo’s works of art affirm these interpretations; for instance, the Belvedere Torso and the Laocoön were influential for his artistic style and creations. As Vasari describes it in his second edition of the Lives, Michelangelo’s relationship with antiquity, especially Hellenistic art, was rooted in his experience as a teenager in the Medici archaeological garden. According to his authorized biographer Ascanio Condivi, Michelangelo studied the head of an old faun in the Medici Garden when he was a child. 

Ottavio Vannini, Michelangelo Showing Lorenzo il Magnifico the Head of a Faun (1638-1642), Palazzo Pitti, Florence via Wikimedia Commons

Though the faun in question is lost, Ludwig Goldscheider argues that Ottavio Vannini’s seventeenth-century fresco painting in the Palazzo Pitti, Michelangelo Showing Lorenzo il Magnifico the Head of a Faun, shows the missing piece. When comparing the head of the Ludovisi Pan and Vannini’s reproduction of the head, the pointed ears, open mouth without teeth, and noses show similarities. As Eugenio Battisti noted, the missing faun, which Condivi and Vasari mentioned, did not display the characteristic features of the classical period but showed the features of Hellenistic art. Studying this ancient faun, Michelangelo associated himself with the expression of intense emotion in Hellenistic art. 

At left, head of “Michelangelo’s faun”, after Ottavio Vannini (credit: Goldscheider 1996); at right, the Ludovisi Pan as it appeared ca. 1986 (credit: O. Savio, in Maria Elisa Micheli, Museo Nazionale Romani catalogue I 6)

Indeed, Michelangelo’s keenness for ancient sculptural forms not only reflects his comprehension of antiquity but also his individual expressiveness. In this way, in order to reveal individual expression, he depicted his self-portraits in his paintings, drawings, and sculptures to eliminate the subject’s importance and to reveal his creation and his approach to the theme.

Maerten van Heemskerck, view of courtyard of the Della Valle palace (1532-1536), Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

As it happens, we have an obvious ancient influence on the Ludovisi sculpture. This Pan, with his erect phallus,  goat-like legs, pointed ears, and short horns, seems to take direct inspiration from the Satyrs or Pair of Pan famously exhibited (by 1490) in the courtyards of the Della Valle family. Indeed Micheli notes this in her short discussion. Specifically, like the Ludovisi Pan, both the Della Valle statues display heavily nude muscled figures with goat legs and curly and forked beards and animal pelts, which cover the upper body diagonally. Two differences are easily explained. Although the paired Satyrs stand with an anatomical absence—their phalluses were presumably broken—Amico Aspertini’s Sketch-book (c. 1535) depicts these Satyrs with erect phalluses. Also the arms of the Satyrs were missing during the Renaissance (until 18th century). However, our sculptor used his own style by depicting the arms of this particular statue.  More generally, Luba Freedman has argued for the visual influence of Della Valle Satyrs on Michelangelo’s satyr in his Bacchus, a double-figure marble sculpture in the round.

The Della Valle Satyrs (2nd century CE Roman copy after a Hellenistic original), Musei Capitolini, Rome, via Wikimedia Commons
Amico Aspertini (1474-1552) Sketch-book, ca. 1535, with Della Valle Satyrs at left, The British Museum

There is more, indeed much more. The depiction of each hand of the statue of Pan prompted me to turn my gaze to the very similar accentuated hand gestures in Michelangelo’s sculptures of the Moses, the Bacchus, the David and his other works of art. But most important for my study is a chalk on paper piece by Michelangelo, privately gifted to a friend (presumably Tommaso de’ Cavalieri) in ca. 1533. In the artist’s Dream of Human Life drawing, the central figure reclines on a box, in which a mask is depicted at its center. The face of the statue of Pan and the appearance of this mask are almost identical, to the point that they seem created and executed by the same artist.

Michelangelo, Il Sogno (The Dream), ca. 1533, The Courtauld, London
Detail of Michelangelo, Il Sogno (The Dream), ca. 1533, The Courtauld, London

Scholars largely agree that the mask in the Dream of Human Life is evocative of Michelangelo’s self-portraits, because of the depiction of a forked beard, also characteristic of the artist. However scholars have not remarked on the correspondences between this mask and the statue of Pan. It is this close similarity that prompted my inquiry whether the Pan figure displays the artistic depiction of Michelangelo, in a satirical or self-deprecatory sense.

The statue of Pan is a natural size white marble statue (h. m. 1,70 approx.), resting on a low rocky pedestal. It is attested as one of the sculptures in the collection of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1621-1632), showing up in a 1633 inventory of his Villa Ludovisi. This heavily muscled, ithyphallic figure, rendered with short horns and pointy ears, exhibits a forked beard, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s own beard style. It gazes at someone or something with a laughing, toothless mouth displaying a noticeable tongue.

This male figure is not utterly nude. An animal pelt (presumably a deerskin) is depicted hanging over his right shoulder, then diagonally across his back, to extend against his left thigh. Another piece of this animal pelt goes from his back to the armpit of his right arm. As such, it covers half of the back of the statue, but emphasizes the figure’s musculature. The figure holds the animal pelt with both hands on both sides of his body. Below his right shoulder, we clearly recognize the hoof of this pelt. Between the two legs of this Pan, we see an animal head with extremely pointed ears. The rear of the statue’s right leg rests against a large gnarled tree trunk, which (when seen from behind) touches the right hipline of the figure.

Various details of Ludovisi Pan. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Photo credit: TC Brennan

Furthermore, the depiction of Pan’s legs is reminiscent of the contrapposto stance. The right goat-like leg is rendered slightly in front of the other and carries the weight of the torso and the raised left leg over the animal pelt is shown free to move. Even though admittedly there is not enough consistency between the posture of the upper body with the stance of the legs of the Pan, we can recognize the asymmetrical anatomical position around his waist. We know also from Michelangelo’s free standing sculptures that he used contrapposto. While the front of the Pan figure seems finished, the lower part of the back of this statue is shown unfinished.

The Pan displayed against the Aurelian Wall in the Villa Ludovisi (1885). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Photo credit: Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913)

The sculpture was obviously highly valued. Historic photos of the Villa Ludovisi from 1885 capture the Statue of Pan housed in its own temple-like structure, on a garden path that ran west to east along the Aurelian Wall. A predecessor to the temple (which dates to the late 18th century) was built already for Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi in the 17th century, and can be seen in Giuseppe Falda’s views of the Villa Ludovisi published in 1670 (to be discussed in Part III of this article). The 19th century photographic images also show that an enormous fig leaf covered the genitalia of this Pan figure. When the Villa Ludovisi was handed over to developers in the latter half of the 1880s, the statue was presumably moved, eventually (in 1901) to the Casino dell’Aurora, which remained (and still remains) a family possession. A photo of July 2008 suggests that at some point in the 20th century a tree was planted in front of the sculpture, presumably out of embarrassment at its ithyphallism. In 2009 the tree was removed, and in 2011 the statue thoroughly cleaned.

The Ludovisi Pan, behind a tree purposefully planted to hide it from view, at the southeast facade of the Casino dell’Aurora, just before the home’s renovation in 2009. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Through his work of art, especially his sculpture, Michelangelo accentuated his style when he depicted hand gestures. The very close similarity of hand gestures between the Ludovisi Pan and Michelangelo’s Moses for the tomb of Pope Julius II suggests Michelangelo’s own artistic style. In the depiction of Moses, the figure holds a book—which seems to be tucked under the armpit, which in turn shows the buttress function of the right hand for the book. William E. Wallace points out that with this particular hand gesture of Moses, “the thick ropes of the weighty beard are pulled to one side by the exaggerated long fingers of the right hand. This is the most animated of those unconscious hand gestures that characterized many of Michelangelo’s sculptures.”

Detail of Michelangelo’s Moses (ca. 1513-1515), from the tomb of Pope Julius II, S Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. Credit: Erich Lessing/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

The depiction of Moses’ right-hand gesture that hides his fingertips in his tangled beard and the anatomical details of that hand are very similar—indeed, virtually identical—to the right hand gesture in the statue of Pan, where the sculptor depicted Pan’s right-hand’s fingers as hiding in the animal pelt. In addition, their closely related hand gestures show the same place between the index finger and the middle finger. Also similar are the prominent wrist for the right hand of each, and the shape of the pronounced diamond shaped veins.

Comparison of right hand of Michelangelo’s Moses (credit: Erich Lessing/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.) with right hand of Ludovisi Pan (credit: TC Brennan)

The left-hand gestures of the statue of Pan and Moses also show the same styling, with diamond-shaped veins and fingers hiding in cloth or a cloth-like animal pelt. Interestingly, the animal pelt’s cloth-like depiction on the right shoulder of the Pan figure is very similar to the depiction of Moses’s cloth on his right shoulder. 

Comparison of left hand of Michelangelo’s Moses (credit: Erich Lessing/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.) with left hand (rotated 90 degrees) of Ludovisi Pan (credit: TC Brennan)
Comparison of drapery on right shoulder of Michelangelo’s Moses (credit: Erich Lessing/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.) with that of Ludovisi Pan (3D model by Leif Christiansen)

Furthermore, we can notice the same hand gesture in the depiction of the hand of the Jeremiah figure in the Sistine Ceiling. The right-hand fingers are hidden in the long and wooly beard of the prophet, and the space between the index and middle fingers seem almost the same as the hand gesture of Moses and the Ludovisi Pan.

Sistine Chapel ceiling frescos: Prophet Jeremiah (1508-1512), with detail of hands. Credit: Erich Lessing/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Michelangelo’s Bacchus also has great correspondences with the Statue of Pan. When focusing on the left hand of the Ludovisi Pan and the principal motives of the left-hand depiction of Bacchus, we see almost the same hand gesture—except for the depiction of the index finger which is not curved. Both figures hold animal pelts derived from Greek and Roman art. The Pan figure’s resemblance to the Bacchus group also shows itself in the depiction of the satyr figure. The significant resemblances go beyond the (expected) pointed ears to include the carving of animal heads leaning against the left legs of both the satyr and Pan, as well as the rendering of the hoofs of the satyr and the Pan.

Comparison of details of Michelangelo, Bacchus (1496-7), Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (via Wikimedia Commons), at left, with Ludovisi Pan (credit: TC Brennan), at right
Comparison of details of Michelangelo, Bacchus (1496-7), Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (via Wikimedia Commons), at left, with Ludovisi Pan (credit: TC Brennan), at right

We can see the Pan’s right hand gesture in Michelangelo’s other works of art, particularly his sculpture. For instance, the right hand of the Child (Christ) in Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo (1504) is similar to the right hand gesture of the Statue of Pan, where we clearly see the fingertips hiding in both statues. The hiding fingers of the left hand of Risen Christ (1519-1520) also evokes the Pan’s right-hand gesture. Michelangelo’s early (ca. 1489-1492) Madonna of the Stairs exhibits the similar hand gesture with the depiction of the right hand of Mary, as does the right hand of Michelangelo’s Leah (1542-55) for the tomb of Julius II in S Pietro in Vincoli.

Details of hand gestures in four sculptures by Michelangelo: clockwise from upper left, Taddeo Tondo (1505) via Wikimedia Commons; Risen Christ (1519-1521) via Wikimedia Commons; Leah (1542-1553) via Wikimedia Commons; Madonna of the Stairs (1491) via Wikimedia Commons

We can also see the dialogue between the hiding fingers of Christ in the Florentine Pietà and the left-hand gesture of Pan figure. Particularly, the geometrical shape of veins (diamond-shaped) of Christ’s right hand which touches Mary Magdalene’s torso (Florentine Pietà) is similar to the veins of the hand of the Pan. 

Michelangelo, The Florentine Pietà (ca. 1547-1555), Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence, via Wikimedia Commons; detail from Wallace 1998

Furthermore, the resemblance between the hand gestures of Michelangelo’s David and that of the statue of Pan emphasizes the artist’s sculptural style, but here it is the right hand of David that is evocative of the depiction of the left hand gesture of Pan. The depiction of bending index fingers of both figures is very close, in that each seems relaxed.

Comparison: the right hand of Michelangelo’s David (1501-4), Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence; and the left hand of the Ludovisi Pan (credit: TC Brennan)

Plus Michelangelo’s paintings show the same hand gesture. For example, the Cumaean Sibyl’s left-hand fingers, especially the gesture of the index finger, are reminiscent of the left-hand gesture of the Statue of Pan.

Sistine Chapel ceiling frescos: Cumaean Sibyl (1508-1512), with detail of hands. Credit: Erich Lessing/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Seen from this perspective, it is appropriate to state that Michelangelo’s sculptural language very closely matches the depiction of hand gestures of the statue of Pan. Thus, both sculptures’ stylistic language suggests that they were made by the same artist. 

There are additional resemblances noticeable between the depiction of the Pan figure and the David. The Pan has a bent right arm, a relaxed left arm, and the space between David’s body and arms seems very much the same. It is appropriate to surmise that if we take the pelt away—which we can digitally—we see the same shape and space.

Comparative views of Michelangelo’s David (1501-4), Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence via ARTHIVE; 3D model by Leif Christiansen of Ludovisi Pan

Moreover, the left toe of David does not touch its pedestal, because of the stance of the figure. We can see a similar depiction on the same leg of the Pan; the left hoof of the Pan is depicted slightly raised, because it is planted on the animal pelt. Another similarity is the gnarled tree trunk. Both figures’ right legs are supported by these trunks, with the obvious dissimilarity that the one accompanying the Pan is much larger than that of the David. Yet the pronounced depiction of the ribcage in both sculptures displays anatomical similarities.

Michelangelo’s David (1501-4), Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence via Wikimedia Commons; at right, the Ludovisi Pan (credit: TC Brennan)

Even given all these parallels, the closest resemblance to the statue of Pan comes from Michelangelo’s private presentation drawing, The Dream of Human Life. The mask at the center of the box in this drawing, which has been claimed as Michelangelo’s self-portrait, is almost identical to the facial depiction of the statue of Pan. In the scene of the Dream, a muscular nude man is reclining on a globe over a large box which was filled with masks. When turning our focus to this bearded mask in the middle of the box, we can recognize the great resemblance between the facial expression of this particular mask and the facial depiction of the statue of Pan: the long, broken, and wide-shaped nose (with a swelling part due to fracture in the nose), pronounced nostril,  open mouth (mostly laughing) prominent eyebrow and the forked beard (except the curving up mustache of the mask). This very close resemblance between the two faces shows the juncture between Michelangelo’s mask and the sculptor of the Pan figure.

Comparison of detail of Michelangelo, Il Sogno (The Dream), ca. 1533, The Courtauld, London, with Ludovisi Pan (credit: TC Brennan)

It is important to stress, as James M. Saslow and John T. Paoletti observed, that this mask represents Michelangelo’s self-portrait. Saslow saw the correspondence between the mask and a scene in the Last Judgment in which St. Bartholomew holds a flayed skin, the face of which has widely been accepted as Michelangelo’s self-portrait. Moreover, in a specialized study of Michelangelo’s masks, Paoletti considers this mask as “some form of self-portrait” by emphasizing that the forked beard of the mask reflects Michelangelo’s own beard.  There are two dissimilarities between the two faces. First, Paoletti remarks that the mask has noticeable teeth, whereas we can observe that the Pan figure does not have teeth. The second dissimilarity between the mask and the Pan is the direction of the mustache. In his other portraits, Michelangelo’s mustache seems curving down over the side of his mouth, but the mask shows the mustache as curving up.

For Michelangelo’s later appearance, we can turn to Leone Leoni‘s profile medal of 1561 (Florence, Casa Buonarroti). According to Costanza Barbieri, this medal earned the master’s approval. It clearly shows Michelangelo’s curly, curving-down mustache and forked beard. Michelangelo accentuated his forked beard in all of his self-portraits. In addition, in Michelangelo’s portrait (probably ca. 1544) attributed to Daniele da Volterra, Michelangelo had a forked beard—as Paoletti points out. The forked beard is also the most prominent feature of the Pan statue. Taking all this into consideration, I suggest that Michelangelo executed this Pan statue and he depicted his self-portrait on it.

Leone Leoni, portrait medal of Michelangelo Buonarroti (obverse), ca. 1561, National Gallery of Art; Daniele da Volterra (attr.), portrait of Michelangelo (detail), probably ca. 1545, Metropolitan Museum of Art

To comprehend the correspondences between the facial depiction of the Pan figure and Michelangelo’s self-portraits, especially the mask in the Dream drawing, Condivi’s description gives important points. Condivi wrote:

“The form of that part of the head, which is seen in full face, is of a rounded figure, in such a manner that above the ears it makes a sixth part more than a half round: and thus the temples project somewhat more than the ears, and the ears more than the cheeks, and these more than the rest; so that the head in proportion to the face must be called large. The forehead in this view is square, the nose a little flattened, though not by nature; for when he was a child, one Torrigiano de ‘Torrigiani, a bestial man and proud, almost crushed with a blow the cartilage of his nose; so that he was carried home for dead. This Torrigiano, therefore, had been banished from Florence.”

“Michelangelo’s nose”, continues Condivi, “thus as it is, is proportionate to the forehead and the rest of the face.The lips are thin, but the lower one somewhat fuller; so that seen in profile, it projects a little. The chin agrees well with the parts aforesaid. The forehead when seen in profile almost projects beyond the nose; and this would appear little less than broken, were it not for a little lump in the middle. The eyebrows have few hairs; the eyes might be called small, rather than otherwise, and of the color of horn, but varied and marked with yellow and blue specks. The ears are well proportioned; the hair is black and so is the beard; except that in this seventy-ninth year of his age the hairs are copiously streaked with white: the beard, moreover, is forked from four to five fingers in length, and not very thick, as may partially be seen from his portraits.”

Condivi’s description of Michelangelo’s face matches the depiction of the statue of Pan. Particularly, the depiction of a forked beard, which scholars mention as Michelangelo’s own beard style, is the most important sign. Moreover, when seeing the Pan figure in profile we can notice that the lower lip is fuller. Most importantly, the depiction of a flattened and broken nose  is a persuasive sign to assume that this is Michelangelo’s self-portrait.

The Pan as it stood in 1885 (detail), showing clearly that some of the finer details of the face have since eroded. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Photo credit: Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913)

To sum up. The largely unstudied statue of Pan that stands in the garden of the Casino dell’Aurora displays not only a reverence towards antiquity, especially the ancient motives and content of Greek mythology, but also specifically Michelangelo’s artistic style. The half-human, half-goat muscular (not exaggerated) phallic statue, with pointed ears and horns, is inspired by the myth of the god Pan. When comparing the content and appearance of Della Valle Satyrs with the Ludovisi Pan, it does seem that the Pair of Pan was influential in the creation of our Pan figure.

There is good reason to think that Michelangelo may have been the sculptor of this particular Pan figure. All of the correspondences I presented above between the Ludovisi Pan and Michelangelo’s works of art, especially the accentuated hand gestures which the master employed so many times in his works of art, and the strong similarity between the mask at the center of the box in in the Dream and the face of our Pan, count as powerful visual evidence. I propose that if Michelangelo indeed carved this work, this statue explicitly displays the sculptor’s distinctive creativity and expressiveness. Here he combines his own self-portrait with his accentuated and habitual hand gesture in order to declare himself as the god Pan.

Looking east at the enclosure for the Pan as it stood in 1885, at a spot in the old Villa Ludovisi that corresponds to today’s Via Campania between Via Toscana and Via Abruzzi. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Photo credit: Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913)


Barbieri, Costanza. “‘Chompare e Amicho Karissimo’: A ‘Portrait of Michelangelo’ by his Friend Sebastiano.” Artibus et Historiae 28, no. 56 (2007): 107–20 https://doi.org/10.2307/20067163

Freedman, Luba. “Michelangelo’s Reflections on Bacchus.” Artibus et Historiae 24, no. 47 (2003): 121–35 https://doi.org/10.2307/1483763

Goldscheider, Ludwig. Michelangelo: paintings, sculpture, architecture. New York: Phaidon Press, 1953 (6th ed. 1996)

Loffredo, Fernando. “Pirro Ligorio and Sculpture, or, on the Reproducibility of Antiquity”. In F. Loffredo and G. Vagenheim (eds.), Pirro Ligorio’s Worlds: Antiquarianism, Classical Erudition and the Visual Arts in the Late Renaissance, Boston: Brill, 2018, pp. 324-359.

Micheli, Maria Elisa, “C. D. Pan di Michelangelo”, in B. Palma, L. de Lachenal and M.E. Micheli (eds.), Museo Nazionale Romano. Le sculture. I Marmi Ludovisi dispersi. I.6. Milan: De Luca Editore, 1986: 239-40

Paoletti, John T. “Michelangelo’s Masks”, The Art Bulletin 74 no. 3 (1993): 223-40 https://doi.org/10.2307/3045891

Saslow, James M. Ganymede in the Renaissance, Homosexuality in Art and Society, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986

Saslow, James M. The Poetry of Michelangelo, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991

Wallace, William E. Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture, Painting, Architecture, Beaux Art Editions, 1998

I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Professor T. Corey Brennan who introduced me to the Statue of Pan and encouraged me throughout the process of this research. His suggestions gave direction and color to my article. I want to extend a special thanks to HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for her wonderful encouragement and inspiration for this project. Part II of this article will explore the history of the Pan in the Ludovisi collection of sculptures.

Hatice Köroğlu Çam is a senior majoring in Art History in the School of Arts and Sciences of Rutgers University-New Brunswick, and a spring 2022 intern at the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi project. She is also a student in the Honors Program at the Art History Department and has been writing her Honors thesis on Michelangelo’s presentation drawing, the Punishment of Tityus.

The Ludovisi Pan in January 2022. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Photo credit: TC Brennan

Stolen letters of the Catholic saint Don Bosco to the Boncompagni Ludovisi (1867-9) recovered & repatriated to Italy: why it matters

By ADBL editor Corey Brennan

At the Villa Aurora in Rome, Tenente Colonnello Guido Barbieri, Comandante il Nucleo Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale di Perugia, restores stolen S Don Bosco letter to HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. Credit: Umbria Journal (10 August 2021)

On 11 July 2019 the US Embassy in Rome hosted a poignant ceremony that underlined the firm resolve of the Italian and American governments to combat the trade in stolen and illegally exported cultural artifacts. Two objects recovered in the United States took center stage: a second century CE mosaic from Sicily, and a letter dated 30 July 1867 from S Giovanni Bosco (1815-1888) to the Duchess of Sora (later Princess of Piombino), Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi (1836-1920). Lewis M. Eisenberg, then US Ambassador to the Italian Republic and San Marino, presided at the occasion.

What led to the recovery of both the ancient mosaic and the 19th century letter, 3 pages long, was a closely coordinated operation between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Comando Carabineri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (= TPC). It was widely reported that a US citizen residing in New York had purchased the letter on eBay, and from there it made its way to an apartment in Los Angeles, where the authorities then found it.

This disturbing story reached some closure on 15 June 2021, when two senior officers of the Carabinieri TPC, Tenente Colonnello Guido Barbieri and Maresciallo Maggiore Alessandro Lamberti, formally restored to HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi the letter to the archive at her home, Rome’s Villa Aurora.

In this post my focus is not on the crime (detected in summer 2016), the identity of the various criminal actors, or the multi-year international collaboration that led to the recovery of the 30 July 1867 Don Bosco letter—as well as of a second more succinct one to Agnese’s husband, Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1832-1911) in the Saint’s hand, dated 20 February 1869. The investigation of course may still be continuing, for all one knows.

Rather my aim here is simply to summarize the background and contents of the two recovered Don Bosco letters, and give some idea of their historical significance. Provenance is not in doubt, as we shall see. Though neither item bears the characteristic stamp of the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi, it can be demonstrated that each properly belongs to the Boncompagni Ludovisi collection, yet almost certainly from a part not found in the Vatican or the Villa Aurora.

The 30 July 1867 letter of S Don Bosco to Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi. Credit: US Embassy Rome

Let us first turn to the 30 July 1867 item celebrated at the US Embassy. At the time of writing this letter, Don Bosco is in Torino. He had spent 12-19 January 1867 in Rome, visiting daily with the Boncompagni Ludovisi family at their Villa Ludovisi. Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1856-1935), the eldest son of Rodolfo and Agnese, explains the background to this visit in his book Ricordi di mia madre (1921) p. 183:

“[Don Bosco] came to Rome in 1867; it was the second time he visited here, but this occasion tells more about him. His arrival was related to the appointment of the first Italian Bishops after the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy. My mother wanted to meet with him, I also remember that she brought me to him; it was the year of my first communion.” [trans. Carol Cofone, from her forthcoming publication of the 1921 biography]

First page of the recently recovered 30 July 1867 letter by Don Bosco to Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

In the present document, Don Bosco is replying to a letter sent or received 24 June 1867 (the Feast of S Giovanni), in which Agnese had sent to him a contribution. He tells of a cholera epidemic at Torino, and says he learned it had broken out in Rome as well. Don Bosco alludes to poor health on the part of Rodolfo, the husband of Agnese. The saint also says that he received a letter from Ugo, the eldest son of Rodolfo and Agnese, who was then aged 12, to which his tutor, Don Cesare Calandretti, had also added remarks.

Here Don Bosco also says that he had prayed to S Maria Ausiliatrice on behalf of Rodolfo and Ugo. This is a manifestation of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was crucial in the spiritual thought of Bosco; he would dedicate a major sanctuary to her at Valdocco (Torino) in the following year, 1868. He explicitly refers to the building of that church in this letter, and says it will be finished within 1867. Indeed, he promises that “niuno di quelli che prendono parte alla costruzione della chiesa in onore di Maria Ausiliatrice sarà vittima di questi malori, purchè si riponga fiducia in lei.”

He also says that he has recommended the tutor Don Calandretti to the Lord, that he might model all the (young) members of the family in the example of S Luigi (Gonzaga).

The letter closes with the wish that Agnese or her family visit Torino. He also alludes to the possibility of meeting in Senigallia (Ancona), where (as Ugo tells us in Ricordi di mia madre p. 185) the Boncompagni Ludovisi family had once spent time on the beach. Senigallia was the birthplace of the contemporary Pope, Pius IX Mastai Ferretti, and was an important site for Don Bosco. There he founded another church of S Maria Ausiliatrice and a Salesian Institute.

Second and third pages of the recently recovered 30 July 1867 letter by Don Bosco to Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Context is key. This letter forms the first of a known series, published in G. B. Lemoyne’s biography of Don Bosco (Memorie biografiche di Don Giovanni Bosco vol. IX [1917] chapter 43), in which the Saint also wrote to the Duke of Sora (after 1883 Prince of Piombino) Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi, the husband of Agnese. The letters that follow are dated to 28 January 1869 (from Rome); 15 February 1869 (thanking the Duke for a contribution toward the Basilica of S Maria Ausiliatrice, and asking him for a much larger contribution to buy and renovate the ancient church of S Caio in Monti for the Salesians); and 20 February 1869 (inquiring again about the possibility of subsidizing the renovation of S Caio). Each of the published letters show the close personal and spiritual connection between the Saint and the Duke and Duchess and their children.

Yet one must remember that all of these letters were written in a time of extreme turmoil, when the forces promoting the unification of Italy had numbered the days of the Papal States. Amazingly, the Papal family Boncompagni Ludovisi stood on both sides of the conflict. In 1861 Pope Pius IX had personally exiled the father of Rodolfo, Antonio Boncompagni Ludovisi (Prince of Piombino 1841-1883), for his conspicuous favor of Vittorio Emanuele II. He remained in Milan until the end of his life.

And the brother of Rodolfo, Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913), had joined the forces of Giuseppe Garibaldi and played a courageous role in the battles of Mentana and Monterotondo in October 1867, just months after our letter was written. Indeed, he offered the Boncompagni Ludovisi palace in Monterotondo to Garibaldi to serve as his headquarters. Just two weeks after the capture of Rome he was made a member of the Giunta Provvisoria di Governo formed on 3 October 1870. So the 30 July 1867 letter of Don Bosco to Agnese Boncompagni Ludovisi comes at a historical turning point for the history of the Catholic church, of Italy, and the Boncompagni Ludovisi family.

Now for the second recovered letter of Don Bosco, dated 20 February 1869, in this case written from Rome to Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi. This letter is the last of that known series of missives from 1867 and then early 1869 that the Saint wrote to the Boncompagni Ludovisi family.

S Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco (“Don Bosco”) in Rome 1869. Credit: salesianos.edu

The general background to the letters from early 1869? The end of the Papal States was now a mere 18 months away. Meanwhile the Church was preparing for the opening of the First Vatican Council, which would commence in December 1869, and see the discussion of many doctrinal issues, including that of Papal infallibility.

Yet the period in which Don Bosco wrote these later letters to the Boncompagni Ludovisi family, i.e., early 1869, is also of major importance for understanding the personality and aims of the Saint himself. The reason Don Bosco was in Rome at this time was to secure the Vatican’s official approval of the Salesian Congregation. His first attempt, which was unsuccessful, was in 1864. In September 1868, on resubmission of his petition, he received a further negative assessment of the organization and constitutions of the Congregation. In early 1869 the Saint collected many letters of commendation and finally gained Papal approval of the Salesian Congregation—but not its constitutions—on 1 March 1869. 

So this last sequence of letters to the Boncompagni Ludovisi family dates to a period of great anxiety for the Saint. The letters also show how Don Bosco openly shared his concerns with them.

The first letter in the 1869 sequence published by Lemoyne is dated to 28 January, where the Saint apologies to Duke Rodolfo for not being found at home on that day; he offers to celebrate Mass for the Boncompagni Ludovisi family at the Villa Ludovisi the next day.

The second published by Lemoyne is a long letter of 15 February 1869, in which the Saint thanks the Duke for a contribution of 100 (gold) franchi toward the Basilica of S Maria Ausiliatrice in Torino, and asks him for a much larger contribution to buy and renovate the ancient church of S Caio in Monti for the Salesians. He estimates the cost of that project to be 50,000 (gold) francs.

Demolition of church of S Caio in 1885, to allow extension of Ministry of Defence building on Via XX Settembre. Credit: info.roma.it

A word of explanation is needed about the church of San Caio in Rome. This was an ancient titular church located in the Monti rione of the city, along the ancient Via Pia (= Via XX Settembre), not far from the Pope’s residence in the Palazzo Quirinale. There had been a convent of Barberine nuns (Carmelites of the Incarnation) connected to the church. Don Bosco was seeking the approval of Pope Pius IX to establish a base in Rome similar to the Oratory of St Francis de Sales he had established in 1851 in Torino. His aim was to create at S Caio a church, a school, and a center for catechetical instruction for boys living in the area. The project receives only a few mentions in the Saint’s voluminous correspondence (none that I can find after July 1869). One suspects that he altogether abandoned the project when the Pope was forced to flee the Quirinale on 20 September 1870. In 1885 the church of S Caio was demolished to make way for an extension of the neighboring building (constructed 1880) housing the Ministry of Defence.

Recently recovered letter of S Don Bosco to Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi dated 20 February 1869. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

This brings us to the present letter of 20 February 1869. It shows that the Duke of Sora had not received Don Bosco’s letter of 15 February, in which he had thanked the Duke for the contribution of 100 franchi toward the building of the new Salesian center of Basilica of S Maria Ausiliatrice and asked him to help still further in the acquisition of S Caio. Here Don Bosco affirms that he had indeed received the money and was executing the Duke’s wish, that he pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary on behalf of the Duchess of Sora. Indeed he says that he remembers her every day as he celebrates Mass.

Don Bosco closes the letter proper with a consolation of the Duchess, emphasizing that he feels great empathy for her worries. (These worries are not specified, but one suspects that they concern in part the fact that the Boncompagni Ludovisi were found on both sides of the liberal revolution in Italy.) The letter includes also a post scriptum inquiring again about the possibility of subsidizing the renovation of S Caio—which is noteworthy since it is clear that Duke Rodolfo had not seen the letter of 15 February in which the initial request was made.

Here is a full transcription of the Saint’s short letter, available to Lemoyne before his death in 1916:

Roma, 20 febbraio [18]69

Carissimo Signor Duca,

La E. V. mandò qui per avere da me qualche risposta che io pensavo già di aver fatta, la ricevuta cioè dei 100 franchi, che Ella offriva affinchè si pregasse in modo particolare la S. Vergine (per) la Signora Duchessa di Lei moglie. La sua volontà fu fedelmente eseguita e nella mia pochezza continuo a fare ogni giorno un memento speciale nella santa Messa. Io provo gran pena per gli affanni che prova questa Signora, ma sono pieno di fiducia che sarà solamente esercizio di pazienza e che non vi saranno cattive conseguenze.

Dio benedica Lei, tutta la sua famiglia e mi creda con gratitudine di V. E.

Obbl.mo servitore

Sac. Gio. Bosco.

P. S. – Il miracolo per la casa di S. Cajo si fa?

As promised, a word about provenance. Until at least the 1940s, both these stolen letters surely will have resided in the private Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi that in its developed form was located in the family’s Palazzo at Via della Scrofa, 39 in Rome. The relevant rooms for the archive occupied approximately 100 square meters. In 1947, Prince Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi (1886-1955) made a gift of most (80-90%) but not all of these materials to the Archivio Segreto Vaticano. A full inventory started at the Vatican only in 2001 and was published in five large volumes in 2008, edited by dott. Gianni Venditti. No materials from S Giovanni Bosco are found in that inventory.

Msgr Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi and his father Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino, at La Quiete (Foligno) in 1907. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

It seems likely that Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi retained the present letter and others in its series in the Saint’s hand, because of their unusual importance for the family history. His own father, Monsignor Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi (who after losing two wives took Holy Orders and served as Vice-Camerlengo of the Church from 1921 to his death in 1935), had a special connection to the Saint, who several times refers to “piccolo Ugo” in his correspondence.

Monsignor Ugo also was a conspicuous celebrant in the rite of canonization of Don Bosco in Saint Peter’s Basilica on Easter Sunday 1 April 1934. And on the next day, Monday 2 April 1934, Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi, as Governor of Rome, presided over civil honors to the new Saint in the Sala ‘Giulio Cesare’ of the Campidoglio, with Don Pietro Ricaldone (principal Rector of the Salesians) and Cardinal Pietro Gasparri (Vatican Secretary of State and Cardinal Protector of the Salesians) at his side.

The archival materials that Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi did not give to the Vatican now reside in two different places, in an archive at the Villa Aurora in Rome established in 2010 by Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi (now completely digitized, and showing no Don Bosco material), and at another site not under her control.

What is perfectly clear is that these letters, and especially the letter of 30 July 1867, were a prized possession of Agnese Boncompagni Ludovisi. It was the only one she had in Don Bosco’s hand. As her son Ugo writes in 1921 (Ricordi di mia madre p. 184):

“Among the papers jealously guarded by Mammà I find several letters from Don Bosco, but, except for one, they are all directed to my Father. I offer this letter, because, in my thought, it also helps to make my Mother understood.” [trans. Carol Cofone]. (A transcription follows in the 1921 text of that letter.)

Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi, Princess of Piombino, at La Quiete (Foligno) ca. 1910. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

We also read in Lemoyne’s biography of Don Bosco (volume IX [1917] chapter 43) the following notice, relating to events after the death of Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi in December 1911 [translated by the author]:

“His noble wife Donna Agnese, daughter of Prince Borghese Boncompagni [sic], Princess of Piombino, and at the time of the Venerable [i.e., Don Bosco], Duchess of Sora, did a reckoning of the papers belonging to her estimable late husband, and found five letters from Don Bosco and some pages of memories on their visit to Villa Ludovisi. And she drew up a copy of everything, had it authenticated by the Episcopal Curia of Foligno, and sent it to the Oratory of Torino; complaining that [her husband] the Prince must have received not a few other letters from Don Bosco, but unfortunately they must have been destroyed or lost before the Venerable’s death [i.e., in 1888].”

Lemoyne continues: “The letter which she joined to the documents bears the date —La Quiete, Foligno 3 September 1912.” [This was the residence of Agnese and her husband after 1891.] ‘Tell the Venerable’ —she said among other things—’to obtain salvation for me, also to find my most pious husband, whom I want to hope is in Paradise’. To her husband’s papers she also added in writing her own memories, which concern the interactions that Don Bosco had with them in 1867”.

One last question. So where are these other four letters of Saint Don Bosco to Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi? Still in Italy, and recoverable, one hopes.

Signature of S Giovanni Bosco on recently recovered 20 February 1869 letter. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The historic sale of the Villa Aurora (2022): resources and media coverage

In recent months the Villa Aurora in Rome has attracted massive global press attention, thanks to a judicial auction in Italy that is forcing its sale. The initial asking price? 471 million euros, which observers quickly noted was the highest sum ever asked for a private residence. A first round, held online 18 January 2022, reportedly had no bids. A second round is slated for 7 April 2022, with an automatic 20% reduction in price—which achieved, would still make the Villa the most expensive home in the world.

If one wanted to be charitable, the initial phase of the auction could be called a “soft launch”. It was on 28 September 2021 that the firm of Fallco Zucchetti first advertised the judicial sale on its website and posted an accompanying video on YouTube. A letter—so said later media reports—also was sent to the 20,000 richest individuals in the world to tell them of the auction.

However it took until 16 October 2021 for Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi herself to learn of the sale, despite the fact that she has a life residency in the Villa according to the express terms of the will of her late husband, Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi. At that point, notwithstanding the reported mass mailing to a large and confidential list, the YouTube video produced by Fallco Zucchetti had received just 28 views.

By the third week of October it was a different story. The news of the Villa Aurora auction broke first in Italian papers, then elsewhere in Europe, and within the space of a few days finally throughout the world. The story sparked high-level academic debate on the Villa’s value, a significant grass-roots petition asking the Italian state to find the funds to buy the residence, and (somewhat predictably) a plethora of less lofty takes.

Below we’ve gathered a few general resources on the Villa Aurora and some of the most representative useful reporting on its sale, especially in the English-language press. It must be emphasized that this represents just a fraction of the news items; for continuing coverage that aims to be comprehensive, please see our Twitter account @villaludovisi


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RmjVmaJco4 [CBS MORNINGS]

https://www.nbcnews.com/now/video/italian-villa-could-become-most-expensive-property-ever-sold-131029573968 [NBC News]

https://www.lci.fr/international/video-rome-cette-maison-pourrait-devenir-l-une-des-plus-cheres-au-monde-2207305.html#xtor=CS5-113 [France’s TF1]












CNN (video)


ASSOCIATED PRESS (article and video)






https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eM9xMKUK60&list=PL38m4_KjKKxcshfPh9mqESA3lX3w927Xd&index=20 [THE ART NEWSPAPER]

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-auction-of-a-lifetime/id843351111?i=1000548779258 [BITTERSWEET LIFE]

SCHOLARLY ARTICLE ON SALE (prof.ssa Raffaella Morselli):
https://villaludovisi.org/2021/11/28/interview-with-raffaella-morselli-from-aboutart-online-important-news-on-guercino-at-villa-ludovisi-the-sale-of-the-villa-the-estimate-is-correct-now-italys-minister-of/ [Raffaella Morselli of University of Teramo]


SCHOLARLY LECTURE ON SALE (prof. Corey Brennan):


https://villaludovisi.org [main]
https://twitter.com/villaludovisi [latest news]
[Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi partner site with Google Arts & Culture]
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm2VBi0SdFh3T8P-S8AnO3w [project YouTube channel]




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCy1IzZCrEQ&t=658s [PRESENTATION OF RESULTS]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9YdHPLOklw&t=4s [COMMENTS by prof. David M Stone]

NEW NON-INTRUSIVE UNDERGROUND EXPLORATIONS OF AREA OF VILLA AURORA (“The value of the Roman ruins has not yet been estimated, so the Casino dell’Aurora, in the second call of the auction, could be sold at a price far below the cultural and historical legacy it represents”):


https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/16/greathomesanddestinations/16iht-rerome.html [NEW YORK TIMES 2010 “U.S.-Born Princess Opens Historic Villa to the Public”]

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/principessa-rita-a-fairytale-life/ [CBS SUNDAY MORNING 2017]


Online lecture Thursday 20 January 22 discusses historic auction of Villa Aurora in Rome, recent research

HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi on the northwest terrace of the Villa Aurora in Rome in 2009. With her husband, Princess Rita personally restored the Villa, and for the first time opened the home to visitors and also to scholarly collaboration, especially with Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Above is the video of the talk, by the ADBL editor. And here’s the blurb:

Inside the “world’s most expensive home”: A Decade of Rutgers Research at the Villa Aurora in Rome. Presentation by T. Corey Brennan, Professor of Classics, Rutgers

A virtual presentation, open to the public: 20 January 2022, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm EST. 

The Villa Aurora in Rome—for precisely 400 years the home of the papal Boncompagni Ludovisi family—will go on auction this month with an asking price of $532 million dollars. Called by one leading art historian a “sort of seventeenth-century Sistine Chapel”, the Villa Aurora boasts famous mural art by more than a dozen major artists, including a unique 1597 ceiling painting by Caravaggio. In this richly illustrated talk, Professor Corey Brennan will discuss this landmark sale, his decade-long collaboration with the owners—†HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi—and the discoveries inside the Villa made with over two dozen Rutgers undergraduate students.

https://villaludovisi.org [main; most articles are by Rutgers undergraduate students in its School of Arts and Sciences ]
https://twitter.com/villaludovisi [latest news]
[Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi partner site with Google Arts & Culture]
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCm2VBi0SdFh3T8P-S8AnO3w [project YouTube channel]

https://villaludovisi.org/2021/11/28/interview-with-raffaella-morselli-from-aboutart-online-important-news-on-guercino-at-villa-ludovisi-the-sale-of-the-villa-the-estimate-is-correct-now-italys-minister-of/ [Raffaella Morselli of University of Teramo]


FORBES article (and video) on auction of Villa Aurora:




https://www.nbcnews.com/now/video/italian-villa-could-become-most-expensive-property-ever-sold-131029573968 [NBC News]

https://www.lci.fr/international/video-rome-cette-maison-pourrait-devenir-l-une-des-plus-cheres-au-monde-2207305.html#xtor=CS5-113 [France’s TF1]

Thursday, 20 January 2022
12:00-1:00pm EST

Visit our registration page.
All registrants will receive a link to join our Zoom Webinar.

Please email events@sas.rutgers.edu with any questions.

Visit our new Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences Alumni Website

NEW from 1854: A self-portrait by Agnese Borghese shortly before her marriage to Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi

By Carol Cofone

Detail from painted bench with joined Boncompagni Ludovisi and Borghese arms. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Agnese Borghese (1836-1920) is arguably one of the most intriguing and certainly best attested women of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family. When she married Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1832-1911) in 1854, she forged a bond between two illustrious noble papal Roman families, the Borghese and the Boncompagni Ludovisi. Historically, they were the families of two rival Popes: Paul V Borghese (1605-1621) and his successor Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623). Agnese united their histories during the latter half of the 19th century—a period of time that saw remarkable transformations take place, specifically the unification of Italy, the establishment of Rome as its capital, and a series of Popes choosing to confine themselves within the Vatican.

We have an in depth understanding of Agnese’s experience of these events thanks to a 1921 memoir, Ricordi di mia Madre, written by her son Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1856-1935). (It has recently been translated into English and will be published soon.) Drawing on his memories, the accounts of other close family and friends and her collection of letters—many written by her, others written to her by notables of both Italian and Catholic church history—Ugo gives us a compelling account of her life and times.

Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi, Ricordi di mia Madre (1921). A translation into English by the author will appear in 2022.

Sometimes even the smallest detail sheds light on another artifact from the extensive archive of the Boncompagni Ludovisi, which †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi have so generously opened to study and scholarship.

For example, in his Ricordi (p22) Ugo writes of his mother, “Great care was taken, much more than was usual at that time in Rome, in her literary education, and she had the best teachers. But the habitual French accent of the Borghese echoed in her writings especially when she was a young woman. She also studied music, harmony, singing and painting. She sang with great grace; and I have a self-portrait that she painted shortly before marrying. Her brilliance made everything easy for her.” [Emphasis mine.]

Amazingly, we still have it.

Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

It came to light in 2017, when it was discovered by ADBL editor T. Corey Brennan in deep storage in the Villa Aurora. The identity of the subject was never in doubt, as the name and date are clearly visible.

But what was not suspected until the detail from Ricordi di mia Madre revealed it, is that the signature is Agnese’s. This evocative image of a young woman, only 28 days before her wedding, is in fact a self-portrait. (It should be noted that self-portraits by noblewomen in any era seem rare, and for an elite Roman woman of the 19th century this is perhaps even unique.)

On the date of the painting, 3 May 1854, Agnese was three days shy of her 18th birthday. Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi in Ricordi di mia Madre (pp 87-88) offers great detail about her wedding later that month:

“On the evening of the 28th there was a solemn reception at the Palazzo Borghese on the occasion of the wedding inscription, in Rome called capitoli [similar to minutes or a summary]. The whole official and aristocratic world took part in it: the notarial deed led, among other things, to the signature of ten Cardinals. On that same day, a few hours before, the Princess Borghese and her husband had been received by the Pope.”

“The wedding [on 31 May] was celebrated with great pomp in the Borghese Chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore.”

Stereoscopic view of Borghese Chapel in S Maria Maggiore. Image: Steiglitz-Berlin 1904.

“Cardinal [Lodovico] Altieri, a relative of the Borghese family, blessed the marriage: in fact, Princess Altieri, Donna Livia, her grandmother, was a Borghese. The witnesses were: for my Father—his cousin and then brother-in-law the Duke of Fiano [i.e., Marco Boncompagni Ludovisi Ottoboni], for my mother—her uncle, [Camillo Borghese,] Prince Aldobrandini. Also the citizenry conspicuously took part in that wedding, because then it was…aristocratic. The union between these two prominent Roman families was well accepted, and many certainly remembered that the bride was the daughter of the holy Princess Guendalina [Talbot], whose body they had accompanied to that Basilica fourteen years earlier!”

“My Mother had arrived in the Borghese coach; she departed in the Piombino sedan, driven by the most famous Roman coachman of the time, Ragazzini, and pulled by two horses of our breed, then well known.” [Trans: “The horses bred by Prince Borghese and Prince Piombino are gray in colour and of an average size”: see William Wetmore Story, Roba di Roma. Second edition, Volume 1, 1863.]

“My father, taking his bride’s arm, saw the great throng that crowded the Esquiline piazza, and very quickly ran down the stairs of the Basilica, so that, according to my mother, who often happily recounted this anecdote, no one could appreciate the magnificent lace which adorned her dress.”

The Esquiline facade of S Maria Maggiore, Rome. Detail from photo of James Anderson (ca. 1870).

“With the two servants behind it on foot, the coach went to St. Peter’s, then to the Palazzo Borghese where there was a big breakfast.”

“A detail that, given the habits of today will seem very strange, is that the newlyweds not only did not go on a honeymoon, but that day they found themselves with the Borghese at the Villa and in the late afternoon returned to lunch at the Palazzo Borghese. My grandparents had prepared a temporary home for them in a small house near the Porta Salaria called ‘la Villetta’, which was linked to the Villa Ludovisi.”

The Casino Aurora in its original setting in the Villa Ludovisi, ca. 1885 (colorized 2021). Photo from set of ca. 160. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

“They then ate lunch every day with their in-laws at the Aurora; and in those days in Rome in the summer, the aristocracy had lunch at four. A little over thirty years ago, this custom still persists in some families.”

As readers of Ricordi di mia Madre will conclude, Agnese at age eighteen had already gained a lifetime of wisdom. Of all the things she brought to her marriage, perhaps that was the most significant. It may account for the longevity of her marriage, which lasted 68 years. (It was feted in 1904, the occasion of Agnese and Rodolfo’s 50th anniversary, which is recounted here.)

Agnese’s wisdom clearly shines through in her self-portrait. Thus, it validates what Ugo said about her brilliance. 

Indeed, she was an accomplished artist. 

Carol Cofone is Assistant Director of the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi, with special responsibility for its undergraduate internship program, now entering its third year. Her translation of Ugo Boncompagni’s 1921 Ricordi di mia Madre will appear in 2022.

Interview with Raffaella Morselli in AboutArt Online: “Important news on Guercino at Villa Ludovisi. The sale of the Villa? The estimate is correct, now Italy’s Minister of Culture should promote a public-private foundation”

[Editor’s note: this interview appeared in its original Italian version on 14 November 2021 in the influential journal AboutArtOnline.com, of which Pietro Di Loreto is the Director. We warmly thank dott. Di Loreto and prof.ssa Raffaella Morselli for their kindness and generosity in letting us translate and republish this important piece on the sale by judicial auction of the Villa Aurora, which was set into motion in September 2021 but came to the attention of the Italian and world press only in mid-October. ADBL editor T. Corey Brennan translated the piece and added images and their captions; errors in these regards are solely due to him.]

Raffaella Morselli is full Professor of History of Modern Art at the University of Teramoher publications are numerous, in particular on painting and Emilian artists; she has curated exhibitions and has participated in panels and conferences in Italy and abroad; she has also held positions in various foreign universities. We met Professoressa Morselli to get her point of view on the issue of the sale of the Villa Ludovisi [i.e., the Casino Aurora of the ex-Villa Ludovisi in Rome], since she directly participated in the project directed by Professoressa Barbara Ghelfi on Guercino’s frescoes in the Casino, and she also has followed the story of the estimate of the painted portions of the complex made by Professor Alessandro Zuccari—and judged by some to be excessively high. During our conversation there emerged important observations on these topics, but above all very significant news on the technique of the painter from Cento which would allow us to rewrite an important page in the history of art. Interviewing is the Director of AboutArt online, Pietro di Loreto.

Detail of Guercino’s Fama (1622) on the Piano Nobile of the Casino Aurora, during the November 2019 photographic campaign conducted by the Laboratorio diagnostico per i Beni Culturali of the University of Bologna at Ravenna. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Image: T C Brennan

PdL: Professoressa Morselli, so you were able to see Guercino’s frescoes up close? Before we start a conversation focused precisely on the sale of Villa Ludovisi, I would like to know what you have observed and if you have any news to tell.

RM: In fact, I keep up with the Guercino Beyond Color project of the University of Bologna, directed by Barbara Ghelfi, and since 2019 I have had the opportunity to personally verify the state of conservation of the wall paintings. But before answering, let me tell you about the excellent relationship established with Prince Nicolò‘s widow, Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, a person of exquisite kindness who knows perfectly the importance of the villa and the patrimony of its murals. She is an intelligent and passionate woman and for this reason her main concern is to maintain the accessibility of the property, with the awareness that to do this a really important financial effort is required. 

PdL: One can therefore say that the potential buyer will have to think carefully about how much can be committed to the purchase. But that is a theme that I would like to take up later, if you agree. Because I am first of all interested in knowing what you have been able to observe while you were in front of the mural paintings of Guercino, if your investigations are finished, and if they will be published.

RM: We will publish the results of our research in a special issue of the journal Storia dell’Arte, which I am co-editing with Daniele Benati and Barbara Ghelfi. It is expected to come out in the spring of ’22 and will focus on Guercino and his Aurora. We will also make known what has emerged regarding the relations of the client, i.e., Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, with the artist, and we will give particular attention to the results of the diagnostic investigations, which show much that’s new.  

PdL: Can you say something beforehand?

RM: For example, that Guercino did not paint in fresco, this is the first news.

PdL: Well, that’s certainly not insignificant.

RM: Indeed, Guercino did not make frescoes. He used a mixed technique, mainly a secco (“dry”) painting. This is what emerges from the analysis conducted by the Diagnostic Laboratory of the Department of Cultural Heritage of the University of Bologna, communicated in the context of a recent conference dedicated to Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi, organized by Rutgers University (New Jersey) in collaboration with Kutztown University (Pennsylvania). Another important takeaway: the artist intervenes on the architectural structures painted by Agostino Tassi, which therefore had already been created at the time of his intervention. Keep in mind that Guercino himself was practically at home with the Ludovisi family. And he intervenes when the architectural composition was already ready, so much so that in the detail where the arch opens, it is clear that it was covered by the Guercino painting, and that architecture emerges below. It must be said that Tassi was at the time the “main attendant” of the house, that is, he had the keys in hand to access the rooms and the works of art.         

Work on Guercino’s Aurora (1622) on the ground floor of the Casino Aurora, during the November 2019 photographic campaign conducted by the Laboratorio diagnostico per i Beni Culturali of the University of Bologna at Ravenna. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Image: T C Brennan

PdL: Were you able to reconstruct the chronological order of work?

RM: Granted, we are still studying and reflecting on the results of the investigations we carried out, but still I can advance my idea, namely that Guercino started with the Camera dei Paesaggi. I digress to emphasize that already in this first room we are face-to-face with sensational masterpieces. In fact, in addition to Guercino, Domenichino, Brill and Viola worked on it. I believe that afterward the Aurora was painted, and lastly the Fama on the upper floor. From the images taken by the staff of the Diagnostic Laboratory of the University of Bologna, it is very clear how the artist from Cento works perfectly with black chalk to define the contours of the figures. These are exceptional paintings that in some cases show some repainting, as in the blue of the Aurora sky.          

PdL: Have you been able to ascertain the epoch or epochs of the repainting?

RM: They probably date back to different eras. To be sure, we have found a report preserved in the Vatican Secret Archives, dated in the 1930s by Pico Cellini, which is the only one that is certain in this respect.  

PdL: Among the artists involved there was also a certain Caravaggio.

RM: Sure, and his painting is located in a small room on the first floor, in an area of ​​the building that was transformed around the 1950s. Adjacent to this ‘camerino’ is an apartment which is now completely empty and mostly with a false ceiling. Furthermore, from some surveys carried out, it appears that in the Casino there are other frescoes from the eighteenth century; in short, the place is truly uniquean extraordinary mural art gallery with decorations ranging from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.   

PdL: Previously you were talking about the role of absolute protagonist played by Agostino Tassi in the management of works of art for the Ludovisi. Can we then think that Tassi ordered Guercino to undertake those enterprises you were talking about and that everyone appreciates?

RM: No, I don’t think so. As I said Guercino was practically at home with the Ludovisi and everything suggests that they called him directly. What should be emphasized is that he came from a provincial town, from Cento, where he had a flourishing shop. And he finds himself the protagonist of a very important project with a typically Roman modus operandi, that is quite distant from what he was used to.  

PdL: And what could this mean? It strikes me as a theme to be explored.

RM: We have to try to imagine the state of mind of a young artist who finds himself faced with a completely different reality and way of working, which he does not know. We know that he lived in Rome with Guido Cagnacci, with the mosaicist Marcello Provenzale, and breaks into a world that in these years is full of building projects of exceptional importance. These are for him a total novelty, precisely because there is a foreman and other workers who collaborate together. It is a completely new dimension, which produces the results we are evaluating, thanks also to the total availability of Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, who, I like to repeat, has always shown a sincere interest in the protection of the Ludovisi heritage.      

PdL: Can you tell us more about this?

RM: What I know I learned from the press, but as I said before, it is necessary to emphasize the attention shown by the Princess—of which my colleagues Barbara Ghelfi and David M. Stone and I have been good witnesses. The hospitality of Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi was truly exquisite and allowed us to study with the necessary calm the extraordinary works of art preserved in her residence.     

PdL: To go back to the theme of the paintings of the early Guercino. From the way you described it, it seems to me that a figure has been delineated that does not completely match with what specialist criticism has established to date. Is that so?

RM: The theme deserves further study. Guercino, as I said, arrives in Rome as a provincial unaccustomed to the logic of the artistically most important city in the world. We can imagine his astonishment when he raises his eyes on the monuments that surround him, on a reality so distant from his, that he approaches for the first time. I underline the fact that Guercino does not come from Bologna, the second city of the Papal State, but rather from Cento, with a completely Ferrara-centric artistic background. In fact, in the Aurora you can clearly see the quotations from Dosso Dossi, almost literal suggestions—just think of the beautiful white wildflowers scattered by the goddess. This is not a Roman world, but a fairy-tale dimension of Emilian derivation, which impacts the reality of a capital in great turmoil in those times. Guercino places himself at the service of Ludovico Ludovisi  the cardinal nephew, the most powerful personality of the time after the Pope, moreover in a wonderful place. Today we see only the last portion of that extraordinary complex that were the Villa and the Casino, with the wonderful gardens praised by Stendhal and Goethe. In short, Guercino enters a completely different place from those he had associated with up to that moment.      

Detail of Guercino’s Aurora (1622). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Image T C Brennan.

PdL: You insist on this characteristic, let’s say “provincial”, of the artist who arrives in Rome. But I ask you: how much may he have been contaminated by the Roman environment? And on the other hand: how much may he have artistically influenced that environment, thinking about the fact that in those years, at the beginning of the third decade of the seventeenth century, the Caravaggesque climate was already in the process of dying out?

RM: Guercino always has his own typical characteristic, a sort of very accentuated ‘verve’ that makes it original in that Roman context of great works and changes in artistic languages. Not surprisingly, in the opinion of the critics, this is his best moment. They are the most beautiful years, the years of the ‘gran macchia’, of the intense blue, which Roberto Longhi brilliantly describes as stormy, dappled, brusque“, a judgment which I think over at length. Afterward, it is obvious that the painter looks around and cannot fail to remain indifferent to what Guido Reni created for example in his Aurora for the Borghese. And of course he looks also at Caravaggio, if only because he worked a few meters from the masterpiece of the Lombard genius that it is Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto. However, the Cento painter maintains this moody feeling, “stormy” as Longhi said, which does not belong to others and which over time has had great admirers.         

Detail from Guercino, The Burial of Saint Petronilla. This large altarpiece was commissioned by Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi for S Peter’s Basilica, and was executed between 1621-1623. Now in the Capitoline Museums, Rome. Image: Google Arts & Culture.

PdL: One of the greatest achievements, an absolute masterpiece for art history, is the Burial of Santa Petronilla.

RM: The Burial of Santa Petronilla, today in the Capitoline Museums, is an extraordinary invention, and it deserves a separate discussion. Just look at the position of the saint: it is not clear if she is hoisted or deposited by those hands in the foreground, that support or vice versa lower the body. And then there is that crown of flowers, the wild flowers of the Emilian countryside that we find in theAurora, which Guercino details as if he were looking at a field of buttercups just outside his home, on the banks of the Reno river.   

PdL: So, in your opinion, does his background, i.e., the Cento training, resist and artistically assert itself even in Rome, even in the face of different experiences and [artistic] languages?

RM: In my opinion, his Cento training resists for a long time. Guercino always has Dosso in his mind and in his eyes. On the other hand, one realizes by closely observing the painting of the Casino Ludovisi how his painting breaks through—and not only in a figurative sense, because it actually literally breaks the limits of Tassi’s architecture. The painter finds it ready and decides to break it, as if to say that the force of the Aurora chariot overcomes all limits and knocks down every obstacle. 

PdL: Do you think there was such a perception at that time? I mean, was it possible to identify these meanings behind the paintings?

RM: The discussion also concerns how the paintings were viewed, because with regard to the small alchemical room, for example, many things still need to be clarified, starting with where the access was located. We don’t know today, but on the side of the spiral staircase there is a door: where does it lead? It is not known, it would be necessary to open it, to see what lies beyond. Personally, during this research I have often been in Caravaggio’s Camerino. There you can see an oval, whitewashed together with the walls, often with colored elevations that reveal a green panel, in copper. What is it? It would be good to clean it completely, to think about whether it could be part of the necessary apparatus for the alchemical fire. But who can do it today?

From the Caravaggio ‘Camerino’ in the Casino Aurora (ceiling above the original entrance to Cardinal del Monte’s alchemical laboratory), mysterious oval with copper elements revealed beneath peeling whitewash surface. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Image: Laboratorio diagnostico per i Beni Culturali of the University of Bologna at Ravenna

PdL: It seems to me that we are facing the problem of problems. Who will buy this property? And whoever it is, will they be willing to do further research, new surveys, other verifications?

RM: It’s a really big problem. We do not know how the story of the sale will end. But it is clear that for the paintings there is a need to provide extraordinary maintenance. Though the painting by Caravaggio shows no problems after the restoration a few years ago, on the contrary the paintings by Guercino are in need of care. 

PdL: I would ask you now to pronounce on a topic that is causing discussion. You will certainly have read the positions taken also in the About Art “special” regarding the estimate that many consider too high and that would sideline the Italian state if it intends to proceed with the purchase.  

RM: In my opinion, we are faced not so much with a diatribe but with a sort of collective reasoning in which everyone expresses their point of view. It is necessary to start from a fact, namely that a magistrate asked Professor Alessandro Zuccari to appraise the murals of the Ludovisi Casino, when it was not yet known how this appraisal would be used. No one knew that the asset would go up for auction.   

PdL: I’m stopping you, because this is new. It seems important to me, if not really decisive.

RM: I can confirm it. When the judge requested Professor Zuccari for a survey, it was a matter of valuation and no one knew how the matter would go, i.e., that there would be a public auction. Alessandro Zuccari was commissioned to offer estimates for the paintings and objects in the Villa. I must tell you that I read with great attention the article by the lawyer Gloria Gatti which expresses a point of view that is certainly appropriate. However she assumes that the asset necessarily had to be auctioned while, as I said, it was not at all clear that this would happen. At least this idea had not been proposed to the experts. Furthermore, attorney Gatti reports a legal decision concerning the sale of Tiepolo’s frescoes at Villa Barbarigo. But here, in the Casino Ludovisi, we are faced with a different case. It is a building that has undergone various stratifications and for this reason it is absolutely unique, a precious receptacle of works of art of various kinds dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, which belonged to several individuals, from Cardinal Del Monte to the Ludovisi. It was necessary to take account of all this on appraising it.        

PdL: However, as I said to you, there is much criticism concerning the exorbitant price—I say this for the sake of information, because for me personally the estimate is even low. That arose from a criterion based on the calculation of the square meters of the paintings on the wall, as well as on the estimation for a painting attributed with much resistance to Caravaggio, about which there was enormous hype, but then it disappeared from circulation.

RM: The fact is that when a magistrate instructs you to evaluate the frescoes, or rather the paintings on the wall, and you decide to accept the assignment, you must find the evaluation indexes. In the case of the Ludovisi, you must indicate it for the works of two geniuses of painting like Caravaggio and Guercino. There are two alternatives: either, as attorney [Fabrizio] Lemme wrote in your journal, you decide that they are invaluable assets, or you take note of the judge’s request and find points of reference that allow you to develop your estimate. Among other things, the question of invaluableness was immediately posed by Professor Zuccari, who pointed this out to the magistate, as he stated in the report. If you read the appraisal, the fundamental parameter adopted was consideration of the insurance value on autographed works of Caravaggio. An easel work was estimated at 150 million while meanwhile an altarpiece 200 million euros. How could he have underestimated Merisi’s only oil painting on a wall in the presence of these already accepted documents?     

PdL: And right here was the origin of the discussions.

RM: I understand, but I ask you: what are the indexes for drawing up university rankings? With which indexes ought one establish which university is better than another? A few days ago the rankings of the best Italian high schools appeared in the press: according to which indexes were they drawn up? Certainly there are some individuals who have not been satisfied and have considered the evaluation criteria not suitable; it is always so. These are choices that must be declared and homologous. Provided that these two principles are respected, by changing the indices the results vary accordingly. 

PdL: But has the problem arisen that in this way the evaluation of the complex reaches the point of effectively excluding the possibility that the Italian state can buy it?

RM: Of course the problem has arisen. But the judge felt that it was necessary to make an assessment that did not underestimate the property and that would enhance it with an evaluation that was at least congruous. The judge ensures that in this way, contrary to what some believe, the property is caused to be safeguarded from any speculative interventions, which a low valuation could trigger. And then try to think of the opposite case: think if Professor Alessandro Zuccari had given a lower figure as an estimate instead of the 471 million known. The property would have had a huge market, attracting the interest of various buyers not all interested in its safeguard and protection.   

PdL: It is also true that the asset is protected and subject to constraints, and this is already in itself a decisive aspect.

RM: Add the fact that not only is the property constrained and protected, but whoever intends to buy it must be aware that there is work of consolidation and conservation which, with the exception of Caravaggio’s painting, affects large parts of the entire complex. 

Detail of Guercino’s Fama (1622), taken from scaffolding during November 2019 photographic campaign. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Image: Laboratorio diagnostico per i Beni Culturali of the University of Bologna at Ravenna

PdL: Do you agree with Dr. Galli and Vittorio Sgarbi according to which a much lower estimate, around 20-25 million euros, would allow the state to enforce the pre-emption?

RM: I have no tools of divination to imagine this. Do you think it could be a fitting and objective figure, 20-25 million for a unique property? In my opinion, the state should promote a public-private consortium to acquire an asset that has no equal. It is paradoxical that there is controversy over the decisions of a magistrate who is trying to save an asset that in any case—and attorney Lemme clearly wrote this— remains private and constrained. In my opinion the high evaluation estimated by Professor Zuccari is not only correct but it is a protection against the possibility that the Casino can be sold off for a lower amount. In this way, it was placed at the center of everyone’s attention, making us open our eyes to its uniqueness.    

PdL: But if there arrives the classic moneybags who buys it…do you think such a person would be really interested in improvements, conservation, in continuing the research? Aren’t you afraid that in this case you, as a scholar, would risk not setting foot in it again?

RM: It is a fact that we have to think about, because I have some concern for how many constraints there are. Perhaps the Ministry should think of a new formula relating to the regulation of constraints, in the sense of inserting a sort of mandate on protection and investment, but it is a matter for the lawyers Galli and Lemme who could clarify our ideas in this regard. Of course, if I think of that copper I was talking about, for one thing, I would like you to go ahead and try to find out what it is, while perhaps for a private individual this might be of little interest. Obviously, from my point of view as a scholar, the intervention of the Ministry would be desirable, perhaps in agreement with the new owner because it is necessary that what has survived of this complex be made welcoming and accessible.     

Rutgers University student videographers Adam Nawrot (l) and Sean Feuer (R) with HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi in the Caravaggio ‘Camerino’ of the Casino Aurora. Image: T C Brennan.

PdL: This is why we talk about it a lot.

RM: It’s true, there is a lot of talk about it. But few really know what they’re talking about, because few have been to this sort of seventeenth-century Sistine Chapel.

PdL: But, in your opinion, why are these masterpieces spoken of when problems arise, or unforeseen events occur, and then everything goes back to silence?

RM: It is a question that affects the country’s cultural policy that we can compare to a chain. When some link is broken, then the question comes to the fore. Furthermore, it must be noted that there is no trust between private individuals and the state, and here one ought to intervene with new mechanisms. 

PdL: Now I’ll ask you a somewhat provocative question. You are of Po Valley origin and training, and it is clear that you love Guercino and Emilian and Ferrarese art very much. So I’ll ask you: if there hadn’t been a mural painting, the only one, by Caravaggio in this building, would there have been all this attention?

RM: Certainly not, so much so that in the articles of the commentators Caravaggio is mentioned a lot, and Guercino far less. It is evident that the “case” has jumped to the fore thanks to Caravaggio, if I may say so; afterwards a wonderful Caravaggio is under the eyes of all, with that sphere that looks like a huge soap bubble. The paradox is that in the photo it looks like a mammoth painting and it is not, while on the contrary Guercino bursts out and is immense.

Detail of Caravaggio’s Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto (1597). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Image: T C Brennan

PdL: A last question, if you were to make an appeal to [Italian] Minister [of Culture Dario] Franceschini, what would you say?

RM: I would ask him to reason, with all the administrative and legal tools, to allow the best accessibility of this property which is privately owned. How can it be protected if it is not possible to acquire it as a public property? This is also a topic to discuss and I believe that the Ministry should reflect on it. It is a question to be answered through new systems of operation, so that anyone who purchases the asset is obliged to take care of it and to speak with those in charge of protecting and enhancing it through mutual trust. 

Pietro Di Loreto, Rome 14 November 2021

Digital image of Guercino’s Aurora (1622) prepared for diagnostic study. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. From the video of the 5 Feb 21 conference presentation of Barbara Ghelfi, Chiara Matteucci, Martina Cataldo, Pasquale Stenta (Univ. Bologna at Ravenna), Salvatore Andrea Apicella, Pascal Cotte (Lumière Technology), and Raffaella Morselli (Univ. Teramo), “From Emilia to Rome. New studies and diagnostic investigations on Guercino’s wall-paintings in the Ludovisi Casino Aurora”.

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.

New light on the administration of the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi in Rome

By Rebecca Domas (Kutztown University ’21)

Image (detail) of staff outside the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi in the Villa Ludovisi, 1885. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. 

For more than 250 years the Ludovisi and then the Boncompagni Ludovisi family maintained a private museum on the property of their sprawling Villa on the site of the former Gardens of Sallust, within the historic walls of Rome. Their museum, termed “new” in an inventory of 1641, highlighted some of the most spectacular sculptures collected by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi during the short pontificate of his uncle Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623). Larger pieces acquired by the Cardinal were shown outside throughout the western portion of the grounds of the Villa, some exposed to the elements, others housed under open temple-like structures built according to classical models.

Plan of the Villa Ludovisi, published in G.B. Falda, Li giardini di Roma: con le loro piante alzate e vedute in prospettiva (1670). 

In the year 1670, a plan of the Villa Ludovisi by Giambattista Falda shows a ‘Casino con Galeria di Statue’ (“small building with gallery of statues”), elsewhere designated as the ‘Casino Capponi’, directly to the right of the main gate of the Villa, which was positioned on the enclave’s southern boundary at the distinctive bend of today’s Via Friuli (= Museum I). There the core of the sculptural collection remained even after the dissolution and development of most of the Villa Ludovisi in 1885, indeed until the year 1889, when it migrated a few dozen meters to the southwest, into a newly-constructed ‘Palazzo Piombino’ on the Via Veneto now meant to serve as the main residence for the head of the family (= Museum II). The Museum I building then served for a time as a stables, and later (1948-1951), was converted into a garage to serve the US Embassy in Rome.

View of Via Friuli today, within compound of US Embassy in Rome (ex-Palazzo Piombino). The gap in the wall at left corresponds to the site of the original main gate of the Villa Ludovisi. A garage (visible here with terracotta-colored roof), constructed 1948-1951, occupies the area of the former Museum I. The ancient cryptoporticus once underneath the Museum and used for storage still survives.

However after just 18 months a multi-pronged financial crisis forced the Prince of Piombino to move out and put up his grand palace for rent. Still Museum II continued under the same roof, until eventually (1901) much of the Boncompagni Ludovisi statue collection passed by purchase to the Italian State. Today 104 of those sculptures are splendidly exhibited in the Museo Nazionale Romano at the Palazzo Altemps. And the former Palazzo Piombino on the Via Veneto is now the home of the US Embassy in Rome.

Since the rediscovery in 2010 of major portions of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family archives by HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, our understanding of how the private Museum functioned in especially in the 19th century has improved dramatically. The Princess’ discoveries in her home, the Casino Aurora, has brought to light a wealth of new and significant material—exterior and interior photos of Museum I, new detailed inventories, and significant administrative correspondence between the Museum and various consulates and corporations in Rome which handled group ticket requests, as well as in-house registers that pertain to the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi in both its old and short-lived new locations.

Stereoscopic view (ca. 1860) by Grillet firm of north wall of (1st) Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi at transition between Sale I and II, with Ares Ludovisi at center. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

What is especially exciting is that the guest ledgers and consulate records discovered within the Boncompagni Ludovisi family archive illuminate the identities of visitors and statistics of requests to view the magnificent collections housed within Museum I and Museum II. We can see that expansive interest in the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi spanned across citizens of many nations. And we can trace step-by-step the actual specifics of how individuals overcame the challenges of being administered a ticket to enter the magnificent collections.

Image (ca. 1890, detail) of “Gallery of the Sarcophagi” of the Boncompagni Ludovisi sculptural collection as reinstalled in Palazzo Piombino (= Museum II). Note the Ludovisi Throne at right, placed on top of the Lesser Battle Sarcophagus. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The Boncompagni Ludovisi books that register ticket issues are of particular interest. They are recorded by the same individual, almost certainly Alessandro Rocchi, the chief administrator of the Boncompagni Ludovisi estate, and span across twenty-three  pages. The records date from 1886 to 1894—pausing for a few brief months in 1889 when the collection was removed from Museum I and reinstalled in Museum II.

Although a gap is created for the moving of the collection from Museum I to II, the rosters follow a similar format throughout the records. Each page is formatted as follows from left to right:

Roster (detail) for March and early April 1892 of tickets issued for Museum II. Note under 5 April that the Prince of Venosa, Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (uncle of the head of family), required a ticket. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

(1) the year is listed at the top and at times acts as a divider in the center of the records when a year break is found on a single page. The year is followed by the month, generally within the same column as the year on the far left, which when repeated a dash or dot is listed below the initial month recorded.

(2) The second column lists the calendar date. If multiple entities are present for a single date, a dash or dot appears after the initial entry of the date.

(3) The third and largest column lists the requesting entities’ identities

(4) A fourth column registers the requested number of tickets.

(5) The final column remains a mystery as no names, numbers, or markings outside of the repeated dash are recorded here.

The intact guest rosters are a large component to uncovering the inner workings of entering the Museum. However smaller elements like the analysis of a physical ticket of entry provide another piece of the puzzle. Indeed, the ticket of entry reveals complexities within the guest rosters. It is unclear whether the tickets remained the same from Museum I to Museum II (all the examples from the archive are from the later Museum).

Unused ticket (1890s) from Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi. Annotations by the author. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

All the tickets discovered follow a similar format. The header is listed in bold and translates: “Permit to visit the Boncompagni Ludovisi Museum,” followed by several lines to list the requesting entity that prefixes a would-be (male) ticket holder, “Issued to Mr….”—though we shall see that women entered the Museum with roughly the same frequency as men.

The next lines list the Museum’s days and hours of operations: “The Museum is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 9am to 12 noon and from 2pm to 5pm.” The following space would be filled with the date and year of entry.  Importantly, at the bottom one finds that the ticket was“Gratis” [= “Free”].

The bottom right of the ticket reveals a great deal about the guest rosters. The line “Valga per 4 persone entro un mese da oggi,” reads “Valid for 4 people within one month from now”. This is important, since it reveals that the guest rosters do not indicate the physical entry into the museum on the listed day. Rather, it is a record of working hours for the secretary when they would administer the tickets. This discovery accounts for the implications of days listed in the roster that fall outside of the museum’s regular days of operations and the number of visitors entering the museums.

Now, if each ticket accounts for upwards of four guests, the numbers listed in the fourth column of the guest rosters could be multiplied by up to four to symbolize the true number of guests viewing the collections. In other words, the tickets are listed as an open invitation to be used within the administered month.

However procuring a ticket in the first instance required some effort. The very fact that the system to request permission to enter the Boncompagni Ludovisi Museum saw the family’s administration mostly working hand in hand with national embassies and consulates and (sometimes) corporations is noteworthy. It allows us to evaluate the importance of the Boncompagni Ludovisi collection and the role of its art in the cultural landscape of Rome in the later nineteenth century. It also draws our attention to the status of persons who could request tickets directly from the Museum administration—some Italians, as we would expect, but also well-connected foreigners.

Cover letter from British Consulate in Rome to Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi, 2 January 1892. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Among consulates and embassies working with the Museum, one prominent requesting entity is the Consul of Great Britain. One notes that the consulates did not immediately get their guest rosters accepted into the museum. Instead, they had to go through the process of writing a formal letter listing the individuals wanting to visit the collections. But it seems that their requests were promptly accepted and the visitors listed not challenged.

A good example of the steps from receipt of letter to ledger entry to ticket issue is seen in an exchange made between the British consul and the Museum administration in early January of 1894. A letter was written to the Museum on 2 January 1894 to request the entry of twelve individuals by the British consul. The individuals’ names are listed within the letter and are as follows: George Young Wardle, Captain Brownlowe, Mrs. Bowman, Miss Halton, Miss Emily Price, Mr. Simmons, Mrs. F. Perry, Mr. N. Sommerville, Mr. F. Turnbull, Mrs. R. Sinclair, Mrs. Farquharson, and Mr. L. [or D.] Morice. At least the first of these individuals can be immediately identified. Wardle (1836-1910) was an artist and manager of the William Morris textile factory in south London, and an important figure in the Victorian Arts & Crafts movement.

Visitors requested by British Consulate in Rome to Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi, 2 January 1892; numbers on top are the annotations of the Museum administration. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

So the letter provides the specific identities of the ticket issues recorded on 3 January 1894 in the guest ledgers. The record shows that the ticket numbers N. 221 to 232 were administered to the British Consul to enter the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi. Here is the important point. The exact date of the successful guests physically entering the museum remains a mystery, since the ticket reveals that the entry was good for a whole month.

Visitors requested by Bank Maquay, Hooker to Alessandro Rocchi of the Boncompagni Ludovisi administration, with Rocchi’s annotation of series of tickets issued, 2 November 1893. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Another frequent requesting name among the ledgers is the bank Maquay Hooker, which was a corporation that housed their own art collections and galleries. The bank’s collections were situated relatively close to the western end of the Villa Ludovisi, and shows the company’s interest in art culture within Italy. The corporation name recurs in the guest ledgers, which shows the system of admission to foreigners operating in a similar fashion to consulates. A letter from 2 November 1893 shows requested entry for twelve individuals (hard to identify) under the bank’s name: Miss Jones, Miss Dine, Mr. Allis, Col. Adams, Mr. Mason, Dr. Robbins, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Bassett, Mr. Osgood, Mr. Field, Mr. Nevin, and Miss Orr. The request is listed in the guest ledgers for 4 November 1893 where the tickets N. 51-62 are allotted to the Bank Maquay Hooker.

After the analysis of the yearly entries in the guest ledgers for 1886, 1887 and parts of 1888 in addition to consulate letters, the following attributes leap to the eye. The majority of tickets being administered were to consulates, embassies, and legations—and thus to foreigners. However individual requests are scattered through the guest ledgers and offer a productive line of research. It emerges that even Boncompagni Ludovisi family members had to request a ticket to enter the Museum, as Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi, Prince of Venosa and uncle to the then head of family, did in early April 1892.

The single largest ticket request spotted so far was by the Consul of France who was granted 100 tickets on 18 October 1887—which as we have seen, would allow up to 400 guests to enter the Museum. It seems worth suggesting that this large group wanted to see something new in the Museum—specifically, the “Ludovisi Throne”, discovered on a Sunday in summer 1887, somewhere under the present-day south sidewalk of the Via Sicilia (the precise date and location was cloaked in secrecy), about 400 meters from the Museum. (On the purposefully vague details of its discovery, see K. J. Hartswick, The Gardens of Sallust [2004] p119.) If true, this gives us a valuable data point for the early and mysterious history of this famous classical Greek sculptural relief.

The Ludovisi Throne, photographed soon after discovery in 1887. From the Boncompagni Ludovisi family’s own photographic album (late 1880s-early 1890s) of their chief museum holdings. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Again, it must be emphasized that the numbers listed in the Museum rosters must be lower—perhaps significantly—than the true number of physical guests to the museum. For example, the total tickets administered in the year 1887 is estimated to be 1,483. However when taking into account that an individual ticket is valid for up to four guests, the total of physical visitors to the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi could be anywhere up to almost 6000 guests for the year. This would mean at least 40 visitors per day, assuming about 144 operating days for the Museum per year. (The Museum seems to have been closed in August.)

Indeed, the administration of tickets for up to four guests poses not just statistical quandaries, but also questions about the flexibility of entry into the museum. So the ticket remains valid for one month. However does the piece of paper remain valid for multiple visits within the month, or (more probably) is collected at the door and so acts as a one-time pass? The question at present remains unknown. But like so many of the pieces to the larger puzzle of the administrative history of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family, it is a stimulus to further research to help gain a deeper understanding of the operations of an unusually important 19th century Rome cultural institution.

About the author: Rebecca Domas is a senior at Kutztown University in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, majoring in Art History with a minor in Library Science. A member of the internship class (summer 2021) of the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi, this is Rebecca’s first research project which has been published. She hopes to continue her research in art history and archival work during her graduate studies. She would like to thank Dr. T Corey Brennan for his guidance in the research and publication of her piece. She would also like to thank HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for allowing her to work with the Boncompagni Ludovisi family archive.

Image by the Grillet firm (ca. 1860) of (1st) Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi Sala II, south wall. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

NEW from 11 February 1929: Draft of a speech by Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi, as Governor of Rome, announcing the Lateran Accords

Commemorative medal for 1929 Lateran Treaty by Attilio Silvio Motti. Reverse shows Cardinal Pietro Gasparri and Benito Mussolini. Image: Numismatica Ranieri Asta 14 Lot 123 9 Nov 2019

An illustrated essay by Madeleine Dreiband (Tulane ’23)

It was a Monday afternoon—11 February 1929—and raining on Rome’s Campidoglio when the city’s Governor, Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi, appeared at the balustrade of the ornamental staircase of the Palazzo Senatorio to make a startling announcement. 

At 1200pm that day, with no public notice, Italian prime minister Benito Mussolini and Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, then serving as Camerlengo (“chief officer”) and Secretary of State under Pope Pius XI, had signed in the Lateran Palace a treaty that solved the decades-long “Roman Question” between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See. For the first time since the Pope became a “prisoner of the Vatican” on 20 September 1870, the Holy See now recognized Italy’s statehood with Rome as its capital. And Italy granted to the Holy See its own territory, over which it confirmed the sovereignty of the Pope.

Palazzo Senatorio; Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi’s 11 February speech will been delivered from the top of the staircase at center. Image: Google Arts & Culture (Touring Club Italiano partner site)

The Governor’s speech that presented the long-awaited, historic but still surprising Lateran Accords to the people of Rome was a short one, emphasizing the spirit of the settlement rather than the details. While announcing the momentous treaty, Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi’s speech lavishly praised the accomplishments and power of Italy’s Fascist government. It was published the next day in Italy’s national newspapers, and a few weeks later was reprinted in the February 1929 issue of the Governatorato’s own magazine, Capitolium

Detail from Capitolium 5.2 (February 1929) p. 57, with text of Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi’s 11 February 1929 speech as edited and delivered.

Thanks to the efforts of HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, the original handwritten draft of the speech has emerged, showing many changes to the text, including significant cuts. What it reveals is that the Prime Minister of Italy, Benito Mussolini, personally edited the Governor’s address. For on the last page of the manuscript of the speech, there is a note that states “the corrections in pencil were done by Benito Mussolini.” 

Detail from page 3 of Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi’s draft announcing the Lateran Treaty (11 February 1929), noting that Benito Mussolini edited the manuscript in pencil. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. 

In the handwritten draft, Mussolini removes sentences, strikes an entire paragraph celebrating Pope Pius XI and two of his anniversaries of 1929 (including the seventh anniversary of his coronation, which fell on the next day), and rephrases Boncompagni Ludovisi’s words in the margins. These revisions reveal with striking clarity how Benito Mussolini wanted his leadership and Fascist government to be portrayed to the Italian people and beyond, and his eagerness to downplay the Pope’s role in the accord.

Commemorative medal for 1929 Lateran Treaty. Image: Bertolami Fine Arts E-Auction 90 Lot 2209 26 Oct 2020

It must be remembered that the Governor of Rome had a highly unusual personal link to the upper reaches of the Vatican. Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi was the 9th great grandson of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1572-1585). And, more immediately, his father Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi was Monsignor and (since 1921) Vatican Vice-Camerlengo, and so the second most important official in the Apostolic Camera after Cardinal Gasparri. As Michael McGillicuddy has pointed out on this site, “the relationship between Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi and his son Francesco illustrates a quiet back-channel of communication between the Vatican and Italy that…was used to facilitate negotiations between the two powers.”

This little-noticed fact, combined with the recent discovery of the original manuscript of the Governor’s Lateran speech, deepen our understanding of the momentous events of 11 February 1929. In particular, Mussolini’s previously unknown revisions to the Palazzo Senatorio address of Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi offer powerful insight into the crafting of this announcement of the Lateran Treaty, which obviously was meant to communicate the Accords not just to a Roman audience on the Campidoglio but also to a national and international public. 

A transcription (with evident interventions by Mussolini marked in bold type in the Italian text) and translation follow below.

Page 1 of Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi’s draft announcing the Lateran Treaty (11 February 1929). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. 



Il Fascismo, nel nome augusto del Re e sotto la [incomparabile] guida del Suo [[indistinct]] Duce, prosegue solenne, di vittoria in vittoria, la marcia incontrastata ed incontrastabile sulle vie luminese dei nostri destini.

Quel che sembrò [vano] sogno di poeti e fu, invece, canto [e speranza] e palpito della nostra gente, vaticinio [sublime] dei nostri Grandi, diviene realtà magnifica nell’anno VII del Regime! 

Chiesa e Stato si conciliano oggi, a maggior gloria della Fede, [a maggiorper la più superba grandezza d’Italia. 

[Romani] Romani!

Dall’alto del Campidoglio, simbolo e sintesi di quella romanità “onde Cristo è romano,” riassumendo nel mio cuore la esultanza della vostra anima cattolica ed italiana, innalzo con Voi il pensiero reverente alla Santità di N(ostra) S(ignore) Papa Pio XI.

[A Lui, nel giorno fausto che inizia così radiosamente, nella pienezza di paterni affetti, l’anno giubilare del SuoSacerdotale Ministero, salga da Roma, Capitale consacrata d’Italia, l’augurio più possente e più fervido della Cattolicità.]


Alla Augusta Maesta del Re, al [nostro] [grande] Capo [e condottiero] Benito Mussolini, [da Roma, Capitale consacrata d’Italia], ripetiamo [incon spirito di disciplina e di amore illimitati—fieri ed orgogliosi di questa grande Italia, una nel nome d Dio e del Popolo—il grido appassionato delle Legioni littorie.

[Dal Campidoglio 11 febbraio 929 VII. 

Il Governatore, 

Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi]

Pages 2-3 of Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi’s draft announcing the Lateran Treaty (11 February 1929). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. 

S.P.Q.R. (i.e., Senatus Populusque Romanus = the Senate and People of Rome)


Fascism, in the august name of the King and under the [incomparable] guidance of His [[indistinct]] Duce, solemnly continues, from victory to victory, the unchallenged and unchallengeable march on the luminous paths of our destinies.

What seemed the [vain] dream of poets and was, instead, the song [and hope] and heartbeat of our people, the [sublime] prophecy of our great men, becomes a magnificent reality in the seventh year of the Regime!

Church and state are reconciled today, for the greater glory of the Faith, [the greater] for the most proud greatness of Italy.

[Romans] Romans!

From the top of the Campidoglio, a symbol and synthesis of that Roman spirit “whereby Christ is Roman” [cf. Dante, Purg. XXXII 102], summarizing in my heart the exultation of your Catholic and Italian soul, I raise with You reverent thought to the Holiness of our Lord Pope Pius XI.

[To Him, on the auspicious day that begins so radiantly, in the fullness of paternal affections, the jubilee year of his priestly ministry, may there rise from Rome, the consecrated capital of Italy, the most powerful and fervent augury of Catholicity.]


To the august Majesty of the King, to [our] [great] Head [and warlord] Benito Mussolini, [from Rome, the consecrated capital of Italy], let us repeat [in] with a spirit of unlimited discipline and love—proud and boastful of this great Italy, (which is ) one in the name of God and of the People — the passionate cry of the lictorial (i.e., Fascist) Legions.

[From the Campidoglio 11 February 1929 (Fascist Era year) VII, The Governor, Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi]

Maddy Dreiband is a rising junior at Tulane University pursuing a major in Art History and International Relations as well as a minor in Italian. This spring (2021) she is an intern in the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi. This is her first published research project, and she hopes to continue her research in Italian history. She thanks Professor T. Corey Brennan for suggestions on the topic and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for generously making her family archive open to research.

Commemorative medal (one of only three minted) for Lateran Treaty of 1929 by Ludovico Pogliaghi. Image: Bolaffi Auction 30 Lot 2309 7 June 2017

2021 marks the 400th anniversary of the historic papacy of Gregory XV Ludovisi. Get ready for what’s in store

By ADBL Editor Corey Brennan

View of Guercino’s Aurora (1622), in the Casino Aurora. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome. Design: Alexis Greber (Kutztown ’21)

The year was 1947, and HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi was just six years old when his grandfather Francesco gave the bulk of their noble family’s sprawling archive to the Vatican. Enclosed in 31 massive shelving units whose footprint alone occupied ca. 100 square meters, the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi filled four large rooms in a family palace on Rome’s Via della Scrofa.

Sketches of early 20th century disposition of the archive at Rome’s Via della Scrofa. Source: G. Venditti (ed.), Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi: Inventario vol. I (2008) p. xix

The contents? In short, almost a millennium of family and indeed European history. Its holdings are of crucial importance especially for documenting the family’s two Popes, Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1572-1585) and Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623), as well as the history of Rome’s famed Villa Ludovisi, founded in 1621 by Gregory XV’s cardinal nephew, Ludovico Ludovisi. The whole was organized and annotated by a long series of highly learned family archivists. The last of these was Giuseppe Felici, who continued his efforts through the harrowing events of World War II. Yet after arrival at what is now known as the Vatican Apostolic Archive, the Boncompagni Ludovisi documents took more than 60 years to receive a proper inventory, which a team led by Gianni Venditti published in 2008 in five corpulent volumes.

From the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi at the Casino Aurora: Registry of vineyards at the Villa Sora (Frascati) by surveyor Antonio Giuliani (1691). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Two years later came a genuine plot twist. In September 2010, the wife of Prince Nicolò, HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, discovered in their newly restored home, Rome’s Casino Aurora, an “orphaned” cache from the archive. The unexpected find consisted of over 100,000 pages dating back to the 1400s, organized in about 2400 labelled folders. In addition, the Princess recovered an unpublished documentary history of outstanding figures of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family, written by archivist Giuseppe Felici in 48 typescript volumes.

Today all of these recovered documents are fully digitized, thanks to a dynamic collaboration that Prince Nicolò (whom we sadly lost in 2018) and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi developed with Rutgers University—New Brunswick. Generous support came from Rutgers—NB’s School of Arts & Sciences, and its Office of the Chancellor (especially during the 2014-17 term of Inaugural Chancellor Richard L. Edwards).

To highlight these spectacular archival finds, there is of course this website, as well as our new (since October 2020) partner platform with Google Arts & Culture, and also a YouTube channel. The next phase of the project will focus on a way to share the 350 gigabytes of newly scanned material, with at least basic metadata.

Detail of home page of Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi partner site with Google Arts & Culture. The Archive is one of just over 2000 cultural institutions from 80 countries to be featured on the platform.

There’s clearly a lot of Boncompagni Ludovisi history to process. And on 5 February 2021 an international roster of established and emerging scholars will be making a start, in the form of a virtual conference: Religion, Culture, & Politics in the Papacy of Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623). This one-day event, hosted by Kutztown University of Pennsylvania with the patrocinio of the American Academy in Rome and the Rutgers Department of Classics, is meant to anticipate the 400th anniversary of the election of Alessandro Ludovisi as Pope on 9 February 1621. The event is co-organized by the author and Professor Pierette Kulpa (Department of Art, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania).

Confirmed participants for the 5 February virtual conference include: Salvatore Andrea APICELLA (Lumière Technology, Ponthierry), Ivica ČAIROVIĆ (Univ. Belgrade), Gloria CAMESASCA (Sondrio), Martina CATALDO (Univ. Bologna at Ravenna), Carol COFONE (Red Bank NJ), Pascal COTTE (Lumière Technology, Ponthierry), Laura GARCÍA SÁNCHEZ (Univ. Barcelona), Barbara GHELFI (Univ. Bologna at Ravenna), Jacqueline GIZ (Rutgers Univ.), Isabel HESLIN (Lehigh Univ.), Sonia ISIDORI (Boston Coll.), Christine KONDOLEON (MFA Boston), Pierette KULPA (Kutztown Univ.), Claudia LA MALFA (American Univ. of Rome), Denis LARIONOV (Belarusian State Univ.), Anthony MAJANLAHTI (Rome), Carlo MARINO (Rome), Chiara MATTEUCCI (Univ. Bologna at Ravenna), Raffaella MORSELLI (Univ. Teramo), Martin RASPE (Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome), Pasquale STENTA (Univ. Bologna at Ravenna), David STONE (Univ. Delaware) [discussant], and Daniel M. UNGER (Ben-Gurion Univ.). HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi will deliver both opening remarks and the keynote address from Rome. For the full conference schedule and registration, please visit ludovisi.org.

Through Google Arts & Culture’s Gallery View feature, users can virtually ‘walk through’ the garden or the principal interior spaces of the Casino Aurora, using the same controls as Google Street View or by clicking on the gallery’s floorplan.

It’s fair to say that, at present, the history of no other Roman noble family is receiving such sustained academic attention. The rich material in the ‘Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi’ has already inspired about a dozen and half year-long student projects at Rutgers, most under the umbrella of the Aresty Undergraduate Research program. A summer internship program for undergraduate students debuted in 2020, and drew participants from Rutgers as well as Edinburgh, Kutztown and Lehigh Universities; the program will continue in 2021 and (one hopes) beyond.

‘Walk through’ Gallery view of Casino Aurora rear facade and garden, via Google Arts & Culture

Rutgers student videographers have travelled to Rome twice to document Boncompagni Ludovisi history and patronage. Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi worked with these students, this writer and ADBL board member Anthony Majanlahti to create a Rutgers online course entitled “Papal Rome and its People”, largely filmed in and around the Casino Aurora. They also enabled Rutgers’ School of Arts and Sciences to produce a student-directed feature film “The Princess of Piombino”. The film had its premiere screening at Harvard University’s Fogg Museum in September 2016, in the context of the Institute for Digital Archaeology‘s World Heritage Strategy Forum. Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi attended, answered audience questions, and also appeared as the conference’s principal keynote speaker.

The work of sifting through centuries of Boncompagni Ludovisi history naturally has brought surprises. For instance, a set of photographs from 1904 led to the rediscovery in June 2016 of an entire 19th century fresco cycle in the Casino Aurora, long hidden under a false ceiling. The first glimpses of this ceiling received blanket coverage in the Japanese national and regional press, and featured in a 2019 Milan MUDEC exhibition. In July 2017 a second hidden ceiling emerged, in this case dating back to ca. 1570, the earliest stratum of the Casino’s construction. A series of four small Mannerist paintings was revealed on the upper walls, evidently the original decoration of an important room in the Casino known as the ‘Sala del Letto’. In November 2019, Carole Raddato (whose stunning photographs of Roman antiquity have now found an institutional home at the American Academy in Rome) convincingly identified a fine Roman-era head as a portrait of Lucius Aelius Caesar, the emperor Hadrian’s first chosen heir—one of just a handful known.

An ultra-rare portrait head of Aelius Caesar, as identified by Carole Raddato, from the collection of †HSH Principe Nicolò and HSH Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. Image: Laboratorio diagnostico per i Beni Culturali of the University of Bologna at Ravenna

Indeed, the span of just a few months in late 2019 and early 2020 saw some dramatic developments. These included a campaign to photograph the mural art of the Casino Aurora—including Caravaggio‘s only ceiling painting—in extreme detail by specialists from the Laboratorio diagnostico per i Beni Culturali of the University of Bologna at Ravenna, led by Professor Barbara Ghelfi and Dottoressa Chiara Matteucci, as part of a project Guercino: Oltre il colore. Furthermore, a collaboration between Professor Bernard Frischer (Indiana University, and ADBL board member) and Geostudi Astier SRL (Livorno) resulted in a comprehensive non-invasive underground survey of the Casino Aurora and its grounds, and the creation of a 3D model that sheds much new light on the Roman-era origins of this area, and its later development through the 17th century and beyond. Meanwhile, back in the States, a team of undergraduate students at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania under the direction of Professor Pierette Kulpa transcribed an unusually valuable contemporary (ca. 1633) MS biography of cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi by his personal secretary Lucantonio Giunti.

Detail of Guercino’s Fama (1622) on the Piano Nobile of the Casino Aurora, during the November 2019 photographic campaign conducted by the Laboratorio diagnostico per i Beni Culturali of the University of Bologna at Ravenna. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Which brings us back to the 5 February 2021 Kutztown-sponsored conference “Religion, Politics & Culture in the Papacy of Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623)“. There is good reason that this Bolognese Pope’s reign is widely counted as one of the most consequential short pontificates in the history of the Church. Before his death after just 29 months as Pope (8 July 1623), Ludovisi registered an impressively broad series of accomplishments that invite renewed attention, analysis and critique. Our virtual event aims to offer an opportunity to assess recent contributions on Gregory XV and his cultural world, to share fresh research and analysis, and to reappraise the Ludovisi papacy’s immediate impact and later relevance. Again, for the full conference schedule and (free) registration, please visit ludovisi.org. Hope to see you there!

NEW from 1929: An unpublished letter by Mussolini sheds light on Fascist Rome’s struggle with street begging

An illustrated essay by Sarah Moynihan (Rutgers ’21)

Visitors to Rome who travel away from the popular tourist sites in the Centro Storico and to the Portuense district can find, with just a bit of difficulty, in the shadow of an overpass, the front gate of the Casa Vittoria. Located at the corner of Via Portuense and Via Quirino Majorana, the building is currently home to an unassuming day center for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

However, a dossier from the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi, recovered with the help of HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, illuminates that the Casa Vittoria was once the center of significant internal governmental controversy during the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini.

Built in the late nineteenth century, since 1905 it was home to the olive oil processing company Oliere dell’Italia Centrale. In 1927, this factory, which by then had had fallen into disuse, was converted by the Italian government into a new shelter for indigent beggars called a “mendicicomio”. In January of 1928, the mendicicomio was opened for operation. For the general background, see the discussion of Luciano Villani, Le Borghate del Fascismo (2012) esp. Chapter 1. [Read more…]

NEW from the 1680s: Villa Ludovisi account book documents fate of family’s famed art collection

Detail from first page (1R) of the Villa Ludovisi account book (Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi Prot. 365). Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Villa Aurora, Rome.

An illustrated essay by Jacqueline Giz (Rutgers ’24)

One of the most promising items to come out of the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi at the Villa Aurora, discovered in 2010 by HSH Princess Boncompagni Ludovisi and conserved through her efforts and those of her husband †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, is an account book—wholly unpublished—for the Villa Ludovisi encompassing the years 1622 through 1745, and spanning about 1000 pages.

The book—catalogued in the Archive as Protocollo 365—was compiled for Gaetano Boncompagni Ludovisi (1706-1777), the 6th great grandfather of Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, shortly after his accession in 1745 as Prince of Piombino.

The inscription on its cover promises to detail the “Origin of the Villa Ludovisi relating everything that happened from the year 1622 to 1745”, starting from the papacy of Gregory XV Ludovisi (who reigned from 1621-1623) and the cardinalate of his nephew Ludovico Ludovisi, who established the Villa Ludovisi on Rome’s Pincian hill. Oddly, Boncompagni Ludovisi family archivist Giuseppe Felici made no use of this volume in his monumental Villa Ludovisi in Roma (1952). Though its contents naturally overlap with items we know from elsewhere, much appears to be new.

Front cover of Villa Ludovisi account book (Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi Prot. 365), compiled shortly after 1745. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Villa Aurora, Rome.

[Read more…]

The ‘Sallustian’ Obelisk: A Remarkable Journey from the Villa Ludovisi to the Spanish Steps

An illustrated essay by Isabel Heslin (Lehigh ’21)

Almost everyone who has visited Rome has seen the towering, 14 meter high obelisk on its base at the top of the Spanish Steps. It gleams over the Piazza della Trinità dei Monti a bit mysteriously, for the history of the obelisk is relatively unknown.

As it happens, the obelisk used to be the property of the prominent Ludovisi family. They acquired it almost precisely 400 years ago, in 1621, when Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, the nephew of Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi, purchased a large tract of land on the Pincian hill that in the late first century BCE first belonged to Julius Caesar, and then the Roman historian Sallust. These gardens—the Horti Sallustiani—later passed to the emperor Tiberius, and remained an imperial enclave for some centuries to come. We can tell from several threads of evidence that the obelisk was positioned somewhere in the area now demarcated by the Vie Sicilia, Sardegna, Toscana and Abruzzi.

Top: plan of the Villa Ludovisi, published in G.B. Falda, Li giardini di Roma: con le loro piante alzate e vedute in prospettiva (1670). Middle: detail of Falda plan, showing remains of obelisk. Bottom: Google Satellite view of Rione Ludovisi, showing approximate site of obelisk.

[Read more…]

A virtual conference on Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623): Call for papers for 5 Feb 2021 event

Announcing an international, virtual conference (Friday 5 February 2021) hosted by Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Religion, Politics & Culture in the Papacy of Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623)“, is organized by T. Corey Brennan (Department of Classics—Rutgers University; also director, Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi) and Pierette Kulpa (Department of Art, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania). Conference website: ludovisi.org

The organizers invite papers (20 minutes, pre-recorded) on any aspect—political, diplomatic, theological, cultural—of the pontificate of Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623), for presentation at a one day virtual conference on Friday 5 February 2021 (9am-5pm Eastern US time). They hope to attract participants from a range of academic levels and fields.

To be considered, please submit an abstract (350-500 words) to progettoludovisi@gmail.com by 23 October 2020. The program will be announced 6 November 2020. Selected participants should plan to attend (via ZOOM) their assigned panel in real time for discussion following their pre-recorded presentation. The default language of the conference is English; however presenters may deliver their papers also in Italian, German, French, or Spanish, if they provide a written English translation. The recorded presentations will be closed captioned for accessibility.

This conference is meant to anticipate the 400th anniversary of the election of Alessandro Ludovisi as pope on 9 February 1621. At the time, few must have expected the frail 67 year old Bolognese cardinal to live long enough to make much of a difference with his pontificate, beyond perhaps resolving the most urgent political challenges he inherited from his predecessor, Paul V Borghese (reigned 1605-1621).

Giovanni Luigi Valesio (ca. 1583-1633), coat of arms of the Ludovisi family. Credit: The Illustrated Bartsch. Vol. 40, pt. 1 via Artstor.

Yet before his death just 29 months later (8 July 1623), Gregory XV Ludovisi registered an impressively broad series of accomplishments that invite renewed attention, analysis and critique.

A highly capable mediator, Gregory XV and his administration quickly developed an interventionist foreign policy that scored conspicuous successes in Bohemia (then the epicenter of Protestant resistance to Catholic Habsburg rule) and in the hotly-disputed Valtellina region in Lombardy.

He canonized five saints—one more than Paul V did, and indeed all on the same day (12 March 1622)—including Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, who were the first Jesuits to be admitted to sainthood.

G. A. Mori for Gregory XV Ludovisi, the five new saints (1622). Credit: Bertolami Fine Arts Auction 9 Lot 1784 (29 Apr 2014)

He massively invigorated the Church’s foreign mission work by creating the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, which to the present day has directed and animated Catholic evangelization.

Furthermore, he reformed the process of papal elections, introducing rules that lasted untouched until the early 20th century.

It is with good reason that the Ludovisi pontificate is commonly counted as one of the more important papacies for the post-Reformation church since the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, and indeed as one of the most consequential shorter pontificates ever.

The papacy of Gregory XV also marks a significant cultural moment in Rome. In 1621, his young nephew, the newly-created cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, purchased and started to redevelop a section of Rome’s Pincio hill that corresponded in part to the ancient Gardens of Sallust. His vision was to create a dramatically landscaped urban villa, all within the ancient city walls, that could compete with the adjoining property of the Borghese family.

Guercino, Aurora (1622). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Casino Aurora, Rome

For his new ‘Villa Ludovisi’, the cardinal quickly formed a large and eclectic collection of art, significant especially for its classical sculptures, many of which are exhibited today in Rome’s Palazzo Altemps museum, and its mural painting by contemporary Bolognese artists commissioned for the cardinal’s secondary palace, the Casino Aurora.

For the two and half centuries after the pontificate of Gregory XV, the Villa Ludovisi maintained its position as a principal destination on the Grand Tour, until its gardens were handed over to developers in 1885 for the creation of a new, elegant business and residential quarter.

Of cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi’s two Villa palaces, one is partially preserved today within the compound of the US Embassy in Rome, and the other—the Casino Aurora—remains a private residence of the head of the noble Boncompagni Ludovisi family.

Pietro Gagliardi, portrait of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (painted between 1855 and 1858). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Casino Aurora, Rome.

In scholarly terms, the time certainly seems right for this virtual conference, even without the 400th anniversary of the Ludovisi pontificate.

To focus here only on unpublished materials: in 2010 HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi (who will deliver the keynote presentation at the conference) made the surprising discovery in the Casino Aurora of a large cache of historical documents—well over 100,000 pages dating back to the 1400s, organized in about 2400 folders, “orphaned” from the much larger collection that the Vatican Secret Archive acquired from the family in 1947 (with published inventory appearing in 2008). An overview of these archival items, now completely digitized, can be found at the website for the Rutgers-based project formed to highlight these finds, the Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi, and (soon) at its partner Google Arts & Culture platform.

One of the more important documents that has newly come to light is a manuscript