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 This story unfolds from a previously unknown and unpublished dossier of documents, dating to the mid-1930s, from the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi.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 southwest 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 perhaps the late 1880s has stood unprotected outside the southwest wing of the Casino dell’Aurora. Traditionally attributed to Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475- 1564), and once deemed of great monetary value (4000 scudi in a 1743 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 treatment, that of Maria Elisa Micheli (Museo Nazionale Romane: Le Sculture I.6 I marmi Ludovisi dispersi [1986]), 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”. 

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

The verdict strikes 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. The temple was built probably already for Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi in the 17th century, and can be seen in Giuseppe Falda’s views of the Villa Ludovisi published in 1683 (to be discussed in Part II 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 to the Casino dell’Aurora, which remained (and still remains) a family possession. A photo of the late 1990s or early 2000s 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 southwest facade of the Casino dell’Aurora 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

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

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

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

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:

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:

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. 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





NPR ARTICLE AND RADIO FEATURE ON VILLA AURORA SALE,Rome’s%2016th%20century%20Villa%20Aurora%20to%20hit%20auction%20block%20at,starting%20price%20of%20%24534%20million




CNN (video)

ASSOCIATED PRESS (article and video)





SCHOLARLY ARTICLE ON SALE (prof.ssa Raffaella Morselli): [Raffaella Morselli of University of Teramo]


SCHOLARLY LECTURE ON SALE (prof. Corey Brennan):


RESEARCH PROJECT WEBSITES: [main] [latest news]
[Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi partner site with Google Arts & Culture] [project YouTube channel]




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”):



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.

RESEARCH PROJECT WEBSITES [main; most articles are by Rutgers undergraduate students in its School of Arts and Sciences ] [latest news]
[Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi partner site with Google Arts & Culture] [project YouTube channel]

SCHOLARLY ARTICLE ON SALE: [Raffaella Morselli of University of Teramo]


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

NPR ARTICLE ON VILLA AURORA SALE:,Rome’s%2016th%20century%20Villa%20Aurora%20to%20hit%20auction%20block%20at,starting%20price%20of%20%24534%20million


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 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, 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

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 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:

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 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 copy of an unusually valuable contemporary (ca. 1633) biography of cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi by his personal secretary Lucantonio Giunti, transcribed by a team of undergraduate students at Kutztown University under the direction of Pierette Kulpa.

Title page of Lucantonio Giunti, MS biography of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (ca. 1633). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Casino Aurora, Rome.

There have been other recent advances in understanding sources relating to the pontificate of Gregory XV. These include a campaign to photograph the mural paintings of the Casino Aurora in extreme detail by specialists from the Laboratorio diagnostico per i Beni Culturali of the University of Bologna at Ravenna, as part of a project Guercino: Oltre il colore.

Furthermore, a collaboration between Professor Bernard Frischer (Indiana University) and Geostudi Astier SRL (Livorno) has 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.

Stucco rendering of putti with coat of arms of Ludovisi family (ca. 1622). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Casino Aurora, Rome

There is much more that can be said, especially about the range of specialized and general published scholarship, from multiple disciplinary perspectives, that has appeared in the past few decades on the era of Gregory XV.

In short, this virtual conference aims to offer those with an interest in the Ludovisi papacy an opportunity to assess recent contributions on the subject, to share fresh research and analysis, and to reappraise this pope’s immediate impact and later relevance.

NEW from 1928: the Vatican gifts a live Capitoline wolf to Mussolini’s Rome


Postcard commemorating (from the Italian perspective) the Lateran Pacts of 11 February 1929. Pictured, clockwise from lower left: Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, Pope Pius XI, King Vittorio Emanuele III, and Benito Mussolini. At lower center, the Capitoline Wolf.

An illustrated essay by Michael McGillicuddy (Rutgers ’21)

One of the traditions which Benito Mussolini emphasized greatly during his time as Prime Minister of Italy (1922-1943) was the Roman symbol of the Capitoline Wolf, whose long history as an icon is the subject of a full-length study (2010) by Cristina Mazzoni. An important facet of this emphasis was a live wolf—or rather a series of wolves—which since the early 1870s had been caged and put on display in the very center of Rome.

By examining this tradition from its origins in the 1870s to its demise in the early 1970s, one can see plainly among the historical threads how Mussolini exploited this living symbol to push his own brand of “Roman-ness” (romanità). Yet the story of the wolf also reveals a secret line of diplomacy between Mussolini’s government and that of Pope Pius XI Ratti (reigned 1922-1939), just before the Lateran Pacts (11 February 1929) which established a new Vatican state.

Our interest in the caged live wolf originates from a letter found in the digitized Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi, recovered and preserved by HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi in 2010. The letter, written on 13 September 1928 by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Gasparri (served 1914-1930), and addressed to Monsignor and Vatican Vice-Camerlengo Ugo Boncompagni Ludovisi, describes a domesticated wolf that Gasparri has available that the Cardinal is offering to procure for the Monsignor. [Read more…]

NEW from the 2nd century CE: In the garden of Rome’s Casino Aurora, farewell to a ‘hero’ from a philosopher admired by Marcus Aurelius

Photo credit: Anthony Majanlahti

An illustrated essay by Gabrielle Discafani (Rutgers MA student in Art History)

A wall of large, reddish tuff rocks borders the footpath winding up the hillside. The gravel ascent curves around a lush space scattered with marble statues and pedestals, the essence of the Casino Aurora garden, the last private remnant of the Villa Ludovisi. Strolling up the slope, you find that the hill’s plateau is marked by the end of the wall, which supports a marble funerary altar resting underneath the shade of a tree, a handful of flowers burgeoning below it.

I recommend that you pause to view the monument, allowing for a moment of quiet reflection at the top of the path before you enter the Casino Aurora, home of HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. For there is good reason to believe that this monument, which has escaped notice, cataloguing, and discussion over the past century and a quarter, was dedicated by a prominent Stoic philosopher of second century CE Rome.

To start at the beginning: on the face of the funerary monument is an epitaph in ancient Greek, dedicated by a father to his deceased son, who is eternally commemorated as a “hero”:

[This is dedicated] to Theodoros, / hero, / having lived / 18 years, five days. / [Dedicated by] Athenodotos, / [his] father.

Over the past 350 years, multiple visitors to Villa Ludovisi have transcribed and catalogued this funerary monument. The first in the series seems to have been the Danish physician Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680), who visited Rome briefly in 1643.

The earliest publication of the inscription: Thomas Reinesius (1587-1667), Syntagma Inscriptionum Antiquarum (1682) XII 84, from autopsy (winter 1643) of Danish physician Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680).

Bartholin’s report comes to us via the German physician and philologist Thomas Reinesius (1587-1667), who anthologized Roman inscriptions in Europe in his Syntagma Antiquarum Inscriptionum, published posthumously in Leipzig in 1682. Reinesius notes that the funerary altar was recorded in the same “Ludovisi gardens” where it stands today. He incorporated the inscription in a chapter dedicated to adfectus parentum erga liberos (“parents’ affection toward their children”) with other funerary inscriptions for children outlived by their parents.

Publication of the inscription (1853) by August Böckh and Johannes Franz in Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum III 6413, using a sketch made by Wilhelm Otto Uhden (1763-1835), with critical notes on earlier transcriptions. One wonders under what conditions Uhden viewed the stone, given the errors in line 1 (there is no iota at the end of the word) and line 5 (as noted above, the initial letter is not an eta).

Two 18th century publications of the inscription: Maquardus Gudius (died 1689), Antiquae Inscriptiones quum Graecae, tum Latinae (1731) 248,9 (486,1); and Ludovico Antonio Muratori (died 1750) Novus Thesaurus Veterum Inscriptionum vol. II (1740) 1220, 7. Muratori relies on a sketch made in 1666 by Franciscus Tolomeus, now in Siena (Sched. Ptolem. Cod. Sen. VIII 2, 364); on the actual stone, in line 5 the initial eta in line 5 is rather an epsilon.

The last to record it was George Kaibel (1849-1901), who in 1890 published it in Inscriptiones Graecae XIV, with other inscriptions of Sicily, Italy and the West (IG XIV 1649 = Inscriptiones Graecae Urbis Romae II 582). Oddly, it escaped the attention of both Theodor Schreiber (1880) and Beatrice Palma (1986) in their surveys of the ancient sculptural remains in the possession of the Boncompagni Ludovisi. There are no published images.

G. Kaibel (1890) in Inscriptiones Graecae XIV 1649 p423, from autopsy (“descripsi”) in the Villa Ludovisi—the first editor to have seen the inscription for himself since Gudius in the mid-17th century.

There are not many decorative aspects to this Roman-style grave marker other than an urceus or wine pitcher, modelled on the altar’s side, and a patera or dish, modelled on the opposite side. There are similar motifs e.g., on the Petronia Q. f. Rufina funerary monument in the Casino Aurora garden, which corroborates the approximate dating of the altar to the second century CE.

Wine pitchers and shallow dishes were frequent decorations on grave monuments, often depicted in reliefs and on the sides of stelai, symbolizing eternal libations for the deceased, especially appropriate here on a funerary altar. The pronounced sloping of the pediment indicates that the altar would have been more evocative than functional, as it seems to preclude the potential of realistically offering libations upon its surface.

The Greek inscription on this monument offers punctuative and linguistic markers that are significant in their own right, especially regarding the units of time at the end of Theodoros’ life.

Detail of the Casino Aurora Greek funerary monument, showing inscription. Overall measurements: height = 67.9 cm; length (at base) = 40.6 cm; length (at inscribed portion) = 30.8 cm; width (at base) = 22.9 cm; width (at inscribed portion) =17.8 cm; letter heights: lines 1-2 = 3.25 cm; lines 3-6 = 2.5 cm; line 7 = 2.13 cm

In line 1, the final omega in “Theodoro” appears to be missing an iota subscript, which is typical in these capitalized inscriptions.

Below in the text, one finds the hedera distinguens, or ivy leaf (❦), commonly employed in Roman imperial-era inscriptions, its role being a word divider or a decorative marking. There are two hederae in this inscription, both appearing on the fourth (precisely middle) line. The first ivy leaf is between the word for “years” and the overlined capital iota and eta which represent the numeral “eighteen.” The second ivy leaf is at the end of this line, but its midrib appears to extend into the following line, effectively separating the number “five,” the numeral written as a capital epsilon with an overline, from its corresponding unit, “days.”

In line four, the spelling of ΕΤΕ, meaning “years,” is incorrect; the ending should be -η or -εα, since it is in the accusative case describing the duration of time ([having lived] for 18 years). This word is neuter gendered in the third declension, and the expected ending of eta happens to be a long vowel. So it is odd that ETE ends in an epsilon, a short vowel, or alternatively, that the alpha following the epsilon was omitted.

There is another instance in this text of an epsilon found in a word where an eta should have been used, in the other unit of time: ΕΜΕΡΑΣ, or “days,” in line five. The initial expected vowel, an eta, was shortened to an epsilon. It has been discovered in other Greek dialects that the initial eta is shortened to alpha, but this is a different scenario altogether. These linguistic changes are indicative of Roman second century CE inscriptions. C.A. Faraone and J.L. Rife (Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 180 [2007] 141-157) have articulated that a curse tablet, dating between the first and third centuries CE, featuring the same EMERAΣ ‘misspelling’ was found in Greece at Roman Kenchreai.

Now, who is the young man immortalized on this monument as “hero”— the only adjective to describe the deceased? Similar to the placement of the name “(to) Theodoros” in line 1, the word “hero” draws particular attention as the sole word in the second line. The word “hero” draws particular attention as the sole word in the second line, similar to the placement of the name “(to) Theodoros” in line 1. The centered placement of the word and complementary size of the “hero” text to “Theodoros” indicate deliberate isolation in this exquisite inscription.

There are no reasons given in the epitaph for Theodoros’ demise, whether from warfare, illness, or accident. There is no specific mention of the literary, rhetorical, or military achievement of Theodoros, son of Athenodotos, nor is there documentation of a marriage. Yet his death must be significant to warrant the title “hero” and afford a funerary monument. He was rather young, having reached the cusp of young adulthood at 18 years and five days old.

Even in the mid-seventeenth century, Reinesius could remark that the description of Theodoros as a “hero” has a different connotation in a Greco-Roman funerary context than one might assume, calling it a “euphemism … [for the] recently deceased.” Explains C.P. Jones in New Heroes in Antiquity: From Achilles to Antinoos (2010, 49-50):

“It is certainly true that in the vast majority of cases, ‘hero’ implies that a person is dead (though that is not the same as being lexically equivalent to ‘dead’), … It can also be conceded that when the living commemorated their dead, especially those who had died young, they could have called them ‘young hero’ or ‘kindly hero’ without investing much belief in their words … This alleged ‘broadening’ of heroization and devaluation of the term ‘hero’ is in fact a societal change, whereby the wealthy upper classes of the Greek cities express their commemoration of their dead members in an increasingly public way.”

Jones clarifies that the title of “hero” does not exclusively assume status as a casualty of war or a mythological figure as some might assume, but that, from the Hellenistic period onward, it is a common title for the elite deceased, especially regarding youths.

It would seem that the famously philhellenic Romans would adopt this Greek attitude in burial contexts. However, there is just a single inscription in Latin from the entire Roman era that uses the title in this sense, a dedication from Pisidian Antioch in the province of Galatia, to a Titus Claudius Paulinus, “philosopher and hero” (CIL III 6850 = ILS 7777). So though found in Rome, this is a very Greek monument.

And what is to be discovered about the dedicator of this monument—the “pater” named in the inscription, Athenodotos? The name is not a common one, which gives hope for an identification. Whereas the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names lists more than 1350 individuals with the name Theodoros, it has just 28 instances of Athenodotos, with only five of those dating to the Roman imperial period, and none from the west. Since we are looking at a monument in the city of Rome, there is good reason to suggest that we have here the same individual as the philosopher and rhetorician Athenodotos, mentioned by two authors from the second century CE.

The earliest references to that Athenodotos are in the letters (starting between 144-147 CE) from Marcus Cornelius Fronto to his correspondent and student, the future emperor Marcus Aurelius. As Amy Richlin explains in her book Marcus Aurelius in Love (2006), Fronto “came to Rome to make his fortune and rose to become the foremost orator of his time. Owing to this reputation, in 139 CE he was chosen to instruct the young Marcus Aurelius, in rhetoric.”

In his correspondence (65,23 and cf. 17,8 in M.P.J. van der Hout‘s Teubner edition), Fronto mentions his “teacher and parent” Athenodotos, who taught him “in regard to examples and certain images of things which he called εἰκόνες (= similes)”, and was clearly familiar with both Greek and Latin. Richlin comments (p124) that Athenodotos “was a student of Musonius Rufus”—for which see Fronto 135,4—”who was one of the most eminent Roman Stoics and notable for his emphasis on marriage over pederasty.”

It is likely that Athenodotos taught in Rome, and Fronto studied with him there (see van der Hout, A Commentary on the Letters of M. Cornelius Fronto [1999] p43). In one of his letters (17.8), Fronto even confesses to have fallen in love with his teacher.

Marcus Aurelius Meditations 1.13, in the Loeb edition of C.R. Haines

A decade and a half later, Marcus Aurelius, in his famous Meditations that he penned around 161 CE, references a “teacher” by the same name (1.13), in recounting lessons learned:

“From Catulus: not to disregard a friend who blames you, even if he happens to blame an act unreasonably, but to try to re-establish him to his usual self; and [to speak] wholeheartedly fair-sounding words of teachers, as is remembered of Domitius [Balbus, a Stoic philosopher] and Athenodotos. And to [be] truly affectionate concerning children.”

Given the academic genealogy of Athenodotos as the student of Musonius Rufus and as the mentor of Fronto, and Fronto as the tutor of Marcus Aurelius, these references are likely to be alluding to the same man, and validate his existence, occupation, and influence in the second-century CE Roman world. They also strongly suggest that Athenodotos’ philosophical school was that of the Stoics, and that he was primarily active in Rome. We also have noted the rarity of the name. Indeed, the only instance of an Athenodotos found in an inscription of the Italian peninsula and Sicily (to judge from a search of IG XIV and Inscriptiones Graecae Urbis Romae) is our example. So the identification seems possible, even probable.

A view of the (unworked) rear surface of the funerary monument

No writings by Athenodotos have survived. But as a clearly revered philosopher, Athenodotos should have had the financial means to erect a costly funerary altar for his son. And his accomplishments may have allowed his adult son to earn the title “hero” upon his death, not merely due to the common attribution of “hero” to a deceased child in an elite family, but also because of the philosophical prominence and the political connections of his father. It is notable that in the references to Athenodotos, he is associated with being a “parent,” and praised for his exemplary pious behavior, further reinforcing the identification.

It is possible that the documents now newly digitized in the Casino Aurora archive will allow us to make new interpretations about this inscribed monument in the Villa Ludovisi collection—which offers a somber meditation about the “heroic” accolade of Theodoros, who died fairly young, his grieving philosopher father, Athenodotos, and the beauty of the garden where their memories now rest.

Gabrielle Discafani is a Rutgers graduate student in Art History (Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies), interested in the intersections between art and law, and was a post-baccalaureate student of Ancient Greek in the Rutgers Classics Department. She graduated from The George Washington University in 2017 as a Classical Studies major and has since accumulated experience in archives, education, museum research, and a bioarchaeological field school. She expresses her thanks for Dr. T. Corey Brennan’s assistance in researching this funerary altar, and to HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for her generosity in enabling and encouraging research on archival objects from her home, the Casino Aurora, and the Villa Ludovisi. Any faults in fact or interpretation are solely those of the author.

In Cincinnati, a sculpture gifted in 1931 by Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi draws new scrutiny

By ADBL Editor Corey Brennan

As so often these days, it started with a tweet.

In this case, it was the Twitter feed of Chris Seelbach, a third-term member of Cincinnati’s City Council. On 6 January 2020 Seelbach linked to a Cincinnati Enquirer article published almost precisely five years earlier. The piece had raised a legitimate question: what is a Fascist-made bronze copy of Rome’s Capitoline Wolf doing in Cincinnati’s picturesque Eden Park?

“The Governor of Rome to the city of Cincinnati”, reads the (Italian) inscription on the sculpture’s base, located near the park’s Twin Lakes. A date (“1931 —[Fascist] Year X”) clearly identifies it as a gift from Mussolini’s regime.

Seelbach fired off a tweet in which he promised to draft legislation the very next day to cast the Wolf—and the suckling twins Romulus and Remus, rival founders of Rome—out of Eden.

[Read more…]

From HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi and Rome’s Villa Aurora, wishes for a happy New Year

One of the great holiday traditions at Rome’s historic Villa Aurora is the raising and decoration of a monumental Christmas tree underneath Guercino’s frescoes in the great Sala. When topped with a star, these festive trees—including the 2019 edition—stretch to a height of over five full meters.

In 2012, HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi instituted what would become an even more vital tradition—a holiday party in their home of the Villa for the children of the Istituto San Giuseppe della Montagna, on Viale Vaticano in Rome. This Institute had long held a special place in the charitable giving of the Prince and Princess, and so a natural next step was to bring the Institute over to their Villa Aurora for a special day of festivities.

The Istituto San Giuseppe della Montagna at Viale Vaticano 88, Rome.

This Institute stands almost in the shadow of the Vatican Museums and the Basilica of Saint Peter, and is administered by Spanish sisters of the Congregation of San José de la Montaña. For some decades, the nuns have offered a home-like setting to more than a dozen children ranging from infants to young teens. They are either orphans or children of poor immigrant working parents, and all stay at the Institute without charge.

The Institute is supported completely by private donations as well as revenues from an unusually pleasant guesthouse on the premises. The guesthouse boasts 17 rooms, all with private bath, and the nightly charge (which includes a sumptuous breakfast) costs a fraction of the cost of neighboring hotels. You can contact the guesthouse here.

So to honor the mission of the Istituto San Giuseppe della Montagna, eight years ago Prince Nicolò and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi started hosting a large and lively December lunch and Christmas party—complete with carol singing and a visit from Santa Claus—for the Sisters and the children. The Prince and Princess made sure that no child left without an armful of welcome gifts.

Many members of Rome’s nobility have fixed the date of the December event for the Institute in their social calendars, and have brought their own children and grandchildren to participate in the festivities. This year Princess Maria Camilla Pallavicini brought gifts for all of the Institute’s children. Also supporting the 2019 event were (among others) Princess Giovanna Borghese; Prince Urbano Barberini Colonna di Sciarra; Prince Alessandro and Princess Maresti Massimo; Prince Carlo and Princess Elisa Massimo; Marchesa Teresa Patrizi; and Princess Claudia Ruspoli, as well as Prince Guglielmo Giovannelli Marconi and Princess Vittoria Rubini Marconi.

We should note that this was the second Christmas party for the Istituto San Giuseppe della Montagna after the loss of Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi on 8 March 2018. The continuation of this event, his widow Princess Rita tells the blog, is also in part a tribute to her late husband, who was devoted to the work of the Institute and the celebration of the devoted Spanish Sisters who see to the care of the children. And she hopes that all have had a festive holiday season, with wishes for a wonderful New Year. There will be lots of progress on Archive projects to report soon in 2020!

NEW: An unnoticed portrait of Hadrian’s first heir, L. Aelius Caesar, in Rome’s Casino Aurora?

The Sala Aurora of the Casino Aurora, with frescoes by Guercino and Agostino Tassi (1621). The bust in question is in the niche at far left. Photo: David Neal Brennan

By ADBL editor Corey Brennan with Carole Raddato

Picture this. On a bright November 2019 morning, ancient history enthusiast Carole Raddato made her first visit to Rome’s Casino Aurora, to meet with HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. Raddato was on the lookout for new items to add to her ambitious Following Hadrian travel and photography project, as well as to see the Casino Aurora’s famed Caravaggio ceiling painting ‘Giove, Nettuno e Plutone‘.

No sooner had Raddato entered the vestibule of the Casino Aurora that she spotted, 10 meters away in an oval niche above the principal door of the main sala, a fine bust of a bearded Roman.

Lucius Aelius Caesar”, she immediately thought.

The bust in question, long universally identified as “Marcus Aurelius”. Photo: Carole Raddato

When we entered the sala—the Aurora room, painted by Guercino and Agostino Tassi—I made a quick motion toward the bust, universally identified (at least since Theodor Schreiber’s 1880 Die antiken Bildwerke der Villa Ludovisi in Rom) as Marcus Aurelius. “It’s not Marcus Aurelius”, Raddato said. “I think it’s Lucius Aelius Caesar”.

And as it happens, she added, there were just a few other such sculptural portraits in the world—most notably, a full-length heroic statue in the Louvre and a head on a modern bust at the Uffizi—taking out her phone to show me the images of Aelius Caesar she had taken.

Two sculptural representations of Lucius Aelius Caesar thought certain: the head from a full-length heroic statue in the Louvre (Inv. MA 1167), and one placed on a modern bust in the Uffizi (Inv. 1914 no. 154). Photos: Carole Raddato.

To these eyes, the similarity between especially the Uffizi and Boncompagni Ludovisi busts was electrifying. Soon Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi had joined us in the Aurora Room to share in Carole Raddato’s discovery.

HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi and Carole Raddato in the Casino Aurora on 6 November 2019, shortly after Raddato made her identification of the bust as that of L. Aelius Caesar. Photo: TC Brennan

[Read more…]

New from 1694-1702: Induction ceremony documents for the Order of the Golden Fleece. Part II (text)

Robes and collar for a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece: Austria, 1755. ARTstor Slide Collection

By Madhumita Kaushik (Rutgers ’20)

The first part of this post focused on a spectacular unpublished diploma of 25 June 1702 recently found in the HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi Archive in the Villa Aurora in Rome. Here 18 year old King Philip V of Spain (1683-1700-1746), soon after his accession, orders that Prince Antonio Boncompagni (1658-1721) be made a Knight of the famed Order of the Golden Fleece. It has long been the premier Roman Catholic order of chivalry, established in Bruges in 1431.

The diploma is written in French, as the Order was originally founded by the Dukes of Burgundy, and it is the King in his guise as Duke of Burgundy who must actually give out the Golden Fleece. (Even today, the awarding of the Fleece is still performed in French.) However, as we have seen in Part I, the authority of this diploma was on quite unsettled ground due to the new King Philip’s losing his claim on the title of Duke of Burgundy.

Here in Part II,  I turn my attention to some supporting documents from that same dossier (Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi Protocollo 588 No. 37), namely, detailed instructions on how to conduct the actual ceremony of admission to the Order. Since in 1702 the Order of the Golden Fleece was then in tumult, and its induction ceremony was a small, private affair—and, as we shall see, explicitly labeled “secret”—these contemporary instructions are of intense interest. [Read more…]

New from 1694-1702: Induction ceremony documents for the Order of the Golden Fleece. Part I (background)

By ADBL editor Corey Brennan and Madhumita Kaushik (Rutgers’20)

One of the most impressive attributes of the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi is its large collection of “Diplomas of citizenship, and of military and civil honors” that members of the family received over a span of some six centuries.

Originally this category of documents was housed in a single cabinet, and grouped into four folders (Protocolli 587-590). The series starts in the year 1379, with a doctoral diploma in civil law granted at Bologna to the great-great-grandfather of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni, one Pietro Boncompagni (died 1408), and it continues well into the twentieth century.

Credit: HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi Archive, Villa Aurora, Rome

The documents of this group up to the year 1576 ( = Protocollo 587) today are found in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano. Yet the rest (= Protocolli 588-590) remain still in the possession of HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, conserved in her home, Rome’s historic Villa Aurora, in the HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi Archive.

Our interest here is in the second installment in this series of honorary diplomas (= Protocollo 588), which runs from the years 1578 to 1734. Toward the end of this sequence one finds a thick packet (no. 37) dated to 25 June 1702, entitled “Diploma di S. M. Cattolica a favore del Duca d. Antonio Seniore col quale viene creato Cavaliere dell’insigne Ordine del Toson d’Oro”.

Archival wrapper (revised in XIX cent.) for Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi Prot. 588 No. 37. Credit: HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi Archive, Villa Aurora, Rome

In other words, it is the case of a diploma issued by 18 year old King Philip V of Spain (reigned 1700-1746, with a brief hiatus in 1724). The recipient of the diploma is the Prince of Piombino, Antonio Boncompagni (1658-1676-1721). And the honor? Induction as a Knight into the celebrated Order of the Golden Fleece, a Roman Catholic order of chivalry that dates back to 1430, the year of its foundation in Bruges by the Burgundian duke Philip III (“the Good”). And as one would suppose, receipt of the Order’s distinctive symbol, a dazzling jeweled collar with pendant representing the Fleece.

Golden Fleece chain (15th century) by Bruges goldsmith and jeweler Jean Peutin, one of 24 he created for the first Knights of the Order. Credit: Artstor Collections

To be sure, the original copy of the diploma is found first in the dossier. In the same archival folder are three other items, clearly associated with the same occasion, and each—one imagines—meant to be confidential, at least in principle. First, detailed instructions on how to conduct the ceremony by which a Knight enters into the Order of the Golden Fleece, in Spanish (with careful Italian translation), dated to Madrid, 17 March 1694. These documents explicitly were drafted for the induction of Francesco Caracciolo (1668-1720), 5th Prince of Avellino. Second, another set of instructions in Spanish, closely modeled on the 1694 document, but specifically naming Antonio Boncompagni as the inductee. And third, in Italian, a history and “constitution” of the Order of the Golden Fleece, in 20 sections. There is a lot to unpack here, as they say. But in this post let us focus on that diploma signed by Philip V. [Read more…]

Some Papal medals of Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1572-1585): Trajanic influences, cosmic aspirations

An illustrated introductory essay by Thomas Gosart (Rutgers ’20)

Medal reverses of Gregory XIII Boncompagni, as illustrated in Filippo Bonanni, Numismata Pontificum Romanorum…a tempore Martini V usque ad annum M.DC.XCIX I (Roma 1699), plate between pp. 322-3. Three of these images (XXXIII, XXXV-XXXVI) refer to this Pope’s restoration of Rome’s Palazzo Senatorio ca. 1579.

Popes of the Catholic church have issued one or more commemorative bronze medallions each year since the mid-15th century. As a group these medals have several important implications for Papal history, European history, art history, classical reception—and indeed neo-Latin.

The medals are not coins and had no fixed monetary value. They were issued as keepsakes to Papal officials, elite Italian individuals, and important visiting dignitaries, visitors and pilgrims. They commonly depict a significant Papal event or achievement of the Pope in the previous year; starting in 1605, they systematically do so (the so-called “annual” medals). By at least the mid-17th century, these medals were widely collected, with large collections being presented with prestige in Rome. (On all this, see the recent overview by M. K. Averett here.)

The commemorative medals usually depicted the Pope on the obverse (“heads”), and an engraving of the event on the reverse (“tails”), accompanied by a phrase in Latin. In my study, I conduct an initial examination of the Papal medals of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1572-1585), to examine patterns, anomalies, and understudied aspects of his reign. Here I will limit myself to two specimens of the ca. 135 types that the Papal mint produced under Gregory XIII’s reign, and describe their implications.

A video survey (11 mins.) of Papal medals minted by Gregory XIII Boncompagni, as found in A. Modesti, Corpus Numismatum Omnium Romanorum Pontificum III (Rome 2004)

[Read more…]

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

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

By ADBL editor Corey Brennan

Don’t call it a comeback.

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

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

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

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


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

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

[Read more…]

New views of original decoration (ca. 1570s) of the ‘Stanza del Letto’ of Rome’s Villa Aurora

Detail from newly-revealed upper walls of the ‘Sala del Letto’ in the Casino Aurora, Rome. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi.

By ADBL editor Corey Brennan

[Revised and expanded from an original post of 6 June 2016, with addition of images taken in July 2017 and January 2019.]

You don’t have to believe it if you don’t want to.

In 1904, historian and archaeologist Giuseppe Tomassetti (1848-1911) composed an overview of the Casino Aurora and its art, for a privately published book dedicated to Prince Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi and Princess Agnese (Borghese) Boncompagni Ludovisi on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. You can read Carol Cofone‘s masterly narration of that celebration here, here and here.

Tomassetti in his essay of course makes note of the two great frescoes by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri = Guercino (1591-1666) in the Casino Aurora—the Aurora (with its lunettes of Day and Night) and the Fama—as well as his contribution to the famous Landscape Room on the Casino’s ground floor. Each of those Guercino works were commissioned by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1621-1632), nephew of Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi (reigned 1621-1623), when he first created his Villa Ludovisi in 1622.

Guercino’s famed figure of “Night” (1622) high up in a lunette of the NE wall in the ground floor sala of the Villa Aurora is dozing over a book that has the date “1858” at the top of a page of abstracted letters. It is natural to suppose that the painter Pietro Gagliardi (who was active in the VA 1855-8) couldn’t resist adding his brush to the masterpiece. Thanks to Tatiana Caltabellotta of the Amministrazione Boncompagni Ludovisi for pointing out the detail.

Tomassetti in his narrative then adds that Guercino also painted “a Satyr in the vault of an upper room.” The reference to this fourth Guercino painting in the Casino Aurora seems unique.


Reference to an otherwise unknown Guercino “Satyr” in the Casino Aurora, by Prof. G. Tomassetti in private 1904 publication produced by the household staff of the Boncompagni Ludovisi. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

[Read more…]

New from 1578 and 1581: Honors for Papal son Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612) at Orvieto, Ravenna

An illustrated introductory essay by Thomas Gosart (Rutgers ’20)

Detail from 1581 Ravenna diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni (ABL prot. 588 no. 23) in Rome Villa Aurora archive, showing Papal arms of his father Gregory XIII Boncompagni. Collection of †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

Giacomo (or Iacopo) Boncompagni (1548-1612) was an Italian noble and son of Pope Gregory XIII (1505-1572-1585). Far from hiding their relationship, his father the Pope appointed Giacomo to command the Papal fortress of Castel St. Angelo, and with it the Papal militia, which immediately made him one of the most powerful individuals in Europe.

The Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi at the Villa Aurora in Rome—owned and curated by †HSH Prince Nicolo’ Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi—holds a series of unpublished documents awarding hereditary honors to Giacomo Boncompagni; one granting him citizenship at Rome (27 July 1573) and another patrician status at Naples (dated to the Ides of March 1581) have already received notice on this site.

Portrait of Giacomo Boncompagni. From Pompeo Litta, Famiglie celebri italiane II (1836), after portrait by Lavinia Fontana

A further two come from the period some years after the accession of Gregory XIII. The first document (ABL prot. 588 no. 20) is from 1578, and grants Giacomo extensive honors at the city of Orvieto in Umbria. The second (prot. 588 no. 23), from 1581, grants Giacomo the office of Senator in the city of Ravenna. This year, for the first time, these documents have been transcribed and translated from the Latin into English.

Honors (ABL prot. 588 no. 20) for Giacomo Boncompagni from Orvieto (18 October 1578). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

The documents, though largely formulaic and panegyric, contain many illuminating insights into the civic culture of Orvieto and Ravenna, which though firmly under Papal control as members of the Papal States, had their own keen sense of historical identity or identity as communities, as well as a sharp awareness of the importance of the honors they were conferring.

Detail from above (ABL prot. 588 no. 20), showing city of Orvieto. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

The Orvieto document of 18 October 1578 granted nobility status to Giacomo Boncompagni and all of his descendants in the Italian city. It is written in a very lavish and flattering fashion, honoring Giacomo in numerous ways.

Detail from above (ABL prot. 588 no. 20), showing Papal arms of Boncompagni at upper left. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

The most significant honor given in the document, besides the nobility status, is complete legal freedom and immunity from being tried in any court throughout the city, granted to both Giacomo and all of his descendants. This is noteworthy for several reasons: most importantly it shows how significant of an honor is being presented to Giacomo, as well as the power nobility had in Orvieto during this time. It also shows the strong Papal control Orvieto was under at the time.

Detail from above (ABL prot. 588 no. 20), attesting that Giacomo Boncompagni’s son Geronimo (b. 1577) was alive in October 1578. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

A second significant aspect of this document is the mention of Geronimo Boncompagni, Giacomo’s firstborn son, who was approximately one year old at the time of presentation of this document. Before the discovery of this document, the only known record of Geronimo was of his birth; no other information was known about his life or of what became of him. This document proves Geronimo lived to at least the point of it being presented, and gives an additional record of his existence. The title “Noble of Orvieto” granted by this document has been passed down throughout the Boncompagni Ludovisi family’s history, and as such was held by HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi (1941-2018).

Archival envelope for Ravenna diploma (ABL prot. 588 no. 23) of 7 August 1581 with honors for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

The second document, from Ravenna, was presented to Giacomo on 7 August 1581 and granted praetorship (i.e., senatorship) to Giacomo Boncompagni and all of his descendants in this Italian city. The document for the most part is very typical of such a document of the time and is written in a very formulaic fashion, praising Giacomo and his accomplishments. For example, Giacomo’s name is written with a gold ink wherever it is simply mentioned, along with the phrase Dux Sorae et Marchio Vineolae, which were two of his other noble titles (Duke of Sora and Marchese of Vignola) that he then passed to his descendants.

Ravenna diploma (ABL prot. 588 no. 23) of 7 August 1581 with honors for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

Yet through this document, Ravenna also seems to express a degree of autonomy as a city. Perhaps this was done to show that, despite being essentially forced by the Papacy to write the document—note the late date of 1581—it still considered itself to be an independent city.

Detail of first five lines from above (ABL prot. 588 no. 23). Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

For example, throughout the first three lines, it is stated that under Roman rule, Ravenna was a “municipality” (municipium) of Rome and not a “colony” (non colonia). This may have been written as a rather subtle statement of defiance of the papacy and of the Papal State of which Ravenna was a part. The title “Patrician of Ravenna” granted by this document has also been passed down to the heads of family throughout the Boncompagni Ludovisi family’s history.

Each of these documents provide essential historical information concerning Giacomo Boncompagni as well as the cities of Orvieto and Ravenna, which has not been seen for over 500 years. The transcriptions and translations of these documents, as well as a short summary of the contents will be published separately as a second part of this project.

Detail of upper left corner of above (ABL prot. 588 no. 23), showing Papal arms of Gregory XIII Boncompagni. Collection †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi

Thomas Gosart is a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences (Honors College) of Rutgers University-New Brunswick, with a double major in Classics (Greek and Latin option) and Physics (Professional option). This past academic year, as a participant in Rutgers’ Aresty Research Assistant Program, he researched the cultural history of the Boncompagni Ludovisi under the direction of professor T. C. Brennan. Thomas is presently undertaking a two-semester independent study of the annual Papal medals of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni, while continuing his research as a member of the Rutgers Relativistic Heavy Ion Group (part of the STAR collaboration at Brookhaven National Laboratory). He warmly thanks †HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi for their generosity in facilitating his research in their Villa Aurora Archive.  

New from 1622: Fray Domingo de Jesús María, the Boncompagni, and the Gesualdo of Naples

An illustrated essay by Maxwell Wade (Rutgers ’19)

P. de Santa Teresa, Vida, virtudes y obras de fray Domingo de Jesús María, carmelita descalzo (1647). Credit: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Found among the recently digitized documents in the Boncompagni Ludovisi noble family archive in their Villa Aurora in Rome is a series of eight letters from a Barefoot Carmelite monk known as Fray Domingo de Jesús María (1559-1630). Spanning from 1612 to 1624 and written in both Spanish and Italian, the letters reveal details in the internal politics of the Boncompagni, Ludovisi and Gesualdo noble families in Italy, as well as pointing to other key events for European political and religious history in the Counter Reformation.

Fray Domingo, born Domingo Ruzzola in 1559 in the region of Aragon in northern Spain, is a fascinating and somewhat enigmatic figure of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who, despite having little presence in English-language scholarship, has left quite a serious and profound historical impact in his wake.

[Read more…]

In Memoriam: HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi (Rome 21 January 1941—Rome 8 March 2018)

HSH Prince Nicolò Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi, KHDM, KJCO, head of one of Italy’s oldest and most distinguished noble families, died in Rome at his ancestral home the Villa Aurora on 8 March 2018. He was 77 years old.

The Prince was the 11th great grandson of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1572-1585), who introduced the Gregorian Calendar, and 10th great grandnephew of Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi (1621-1623), who founded the modern system of Papal elections. His funeral was held according to traditional noble custom in Rome on 10 March at the church of St. Ignazio, built by his 9th great granduncle Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi.

A memorial Mass will be held on Tuesday 17 April 2018, also at St. Ignazio. Officiating will be Archbishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. [Read more…]

The Dragon’s Tail: “Branding” the Boncompagni family (Part 1 of 3)

An illustrated essay by Carol Cofone (Rutgers ’17)

[This essay, completed in February 2018, is dedicated to the memory of HSH Prince Nicolo’ Boncompagni Ludovisi (Rome 21 January 1941—Rome 8 March 2018). I am grateful to him, and to HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, for the privilege of contributing to this project. It has given me a deep appreciation for the nobility of his family. Prince Boncompagni Ludovisi will be deeply missed but thanks to his generosity in sharing his family’s history and heritage, he will not be forgotten.]

As followers of this blog know well, the heraldic crest of the Boncompagni Ludovisi—the union of two great Bolognese Papal families—consists of two principal elements. Representing the Ludovisi is a red field, and three bands of gold; and for the Boncompagni, also a red field, and a winged dragon of gold, with a truncated tail. Here and in the next two posts I will explore how the dragon came to be associated with the Boncompagni, and how that symbol was managed during the reign of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni (13 May 1572—10 April 1585). [Read more…]

Last spotted at Villa Ludovisi in 1885, a Roman praetorian’s monument pops up again at Casino Aurora

An illustrated essay by Corey Brennan

For an 1800 pound monument, it sure has made the rounds. Starting in the early sixteenth century, a long series of humanists in Rome took the time to note a substantial funerary altar that honored—with a full-length portrait in high relief and elegant inscription—Quintus Vetius Ingenuus, a veteran of the “Third Cohort” of Rome’s praetorian guard. Vetius (or perhaps properly ‘Vettius’)  served as a praetorian almost certainly in the third century CE. Eventually, his altar ended up in the famed Ludovisi collection of sculptures, only to disappear more than 130 years ago. Since then it has wholly frustrated scholarly curiosity and scrutiny. [Read more…]

New from ca. 160 CE: Dedicatory inscription of imperial freedman’s temple to Hercules hides in plain sight at Casino Aurora

Rediscovered: the inscription AE 1907, 125, integrated into garden fountain at the entrance of the Casino Aurora. Courtesy of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

A new study by ADBL head T. Corey Brennan in the St Petersburg-based journal Hyperboreus republishes an inscribed architrave/frieze that was found in northern Lazio on Boncompagni Ludovisi property at the turn of the last century, duly reported at the time (see L’Année epigraphique 1907, 125), and then stored away.

After World War I the head of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family gave over the relevant property—named Tor Mancina—to the Istituto sperimentale zootecnico di Roma (today’s CRA-PCM, which remains an important agricultural research center). So what happened to the architrave and its inscription? As Brennan discovered, for more than ninety years it has been hiding in plain sight at their Casino Aurora in Rome—repurposed as the face of perhaps the world’s most elegant trough for watering horses.

The context for the garden fountain; note Boncompagni dragon (and hence carved before the union of the Boncompagni and Ludovisi families in 1681?) positioned above in brick wall. The ensemble probably dates to ca. 1926. Courtesy of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

[Read more…]

New from ca. 1860: Stereoscopic images of the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi by the Naples firm of Grillet

An illustrated essay by Corey Brennan

Stereoscopic view by Grillet firm of north wall of 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.

Claude Victoire Grillet and Jean-Louis Grillet (1807-1866) were French photographers active in Naples from the early 1850s; they were pioneers in the production of stereroscopic images, apparently introducing the technique to Italy. Of the two, it is Claude Grillet who is better known to historians of photography, especially for his landscape scenes of southern Italy and Sicily. Those included pathbreaking images from early 1858 of the devastation caused by a 16 December 1857 earthquake in Basilicata.

It was Jean-Louis’ daughter Jeanne Grillet who brought real commercial success to the family studio at Naples, establishing by ca. 1860 “Grillet & Co.” at Via S Lucia 28 and later Via Chiatamone 6. Touting the label of “photographer of the King”—i.e., Ferdinand II (1830-1859) of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies—her studio produced an enormous number of portraits of distinguished contemporaries, including several of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Statuary—which naturally attracted early photographers who had to battle with long exposure times—was another specialty. In Rome, the Grillet company had an exclusive arrangement with the Libreria Spithöver, located at Piazza di Spagna, 85. Spithover distributed Grillet views in both glass and card.

From Murray’s A handbook of Rome and its environs (10th edition, 1871)

[Read more…]

Twenty-four dwellings of the Boncompagni Ludovisi in Rome (and two elsewhere)

An illustrated essay by Carol Cofone (Rutgers’17)

For an interactive version of this map showing domiciles of the Boncompagni Ludovisi in Rome, click here.

The extraordinary documents of the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi at the Villa Aurora have many stories to tell. Previous posts have drawn on a large set of unpublished monographs written in the 1940s and early 1950s by family tutor and archivist Giuseppe Felici: 15 detailed studies in 48 volumes on family history from ca. 1550 to 1815.

This post, however, explores a much smaller Felici work: a 6-page, hand corrected typescript of an essay entitled The Dwellings of the Boncompagni Ludovisi in Rome. The essay belongs to the collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, in Rome. Below I have translated it from the Italian, with minor organizational adaptations.

In this essay (probably penned in the early 1950s), Felici gives us a rapid fire accounting of the palazzi, casini and apartments that members of the family owned, rented, accessed and abandoned in Rome through the course of 17 generations. Though his writing style in his monographs is expansive, in this essay he uses less than 2000 words to introduce us to more than two dozen Boncompagni and Boncompagni Ludovisi properties—hardly mentioning their famed Villa Ludovisi, and leaving ones inhabited post-1900 to the side.

Mid-17th century view of Palazzo di Sora in Parione (see B below), with towers. From G. B. de Rossi, Palazzi diversi nel’Alma Cità di Roma et altre (1638).

[Read more…]

New from 1573: the Papal son Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612) receives citizenship in Rome

An illustrated essay by Max Duboff (Rutgers ’19)

Diploma of 1573 granting Roman citizenship to Giacomo Boncompagni, son of Pope Gregory XIII. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Among the unpublished documents in the archive of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi in their Villa Aurora, a 27 July 1573 diploma granting citizenship from the city of Rome to the Prince’s 10th great-grandfather Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612) certainly stands out.

First, it must be said that any contemporary document that treats the legitimated son of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni during his pontificate has its own intrinsic interest. And this diploma features colorful and highly symbolic illustrations; it formulaically praises Giacomo (also called Jacopo) while expansively describing the rights of citizenship in sixteenth-century Rome; and it has as its companion a large commemorative gold medal (apparently unique) minted for the occasion. The newly elected Gregory XIII secured the honor as a favor for his son Giacomo, in the process providing us with valuable context on Giacomo, Gregory himself, the social importance of citizenship, and the interplay of Papal and civic power in the city. [Read more…]

Pietro Gagliardi’s Rediscovered Gregorian Calendar Fresco: A Snapshot of Scientific History

An illustrated essay by Katy Greenberg (Rutgers ’19)

A large fresco cycle by Roman painter Pietro Gagliardi (1809-1890) was rediscovered in June 2016 hidden behind a complex mid-20th century drop ceiling on the Piano Nobile of the Villa Aurora. Credit (all fresco photos): Nicholas Brennan, from collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Slowly, a long-lost series of frescoes by Pietro Gagliardi (1809-1890) on the ceiling of the Villa Aurora’s piano nobile is emerging from the shadows. The frescoes, known only from three 1904 photographs until rediscovered in June of 2016, depict scenes from the life of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni. This blog has previously covered Gagliardi’s depiction of the first Japanese embassy to the west (1585), but so far less attention has been paid to the image of the Pope promulgating his namesake calendar. [Read more…]

New from 1929: Attempts to erase “subversive” graffiti in Mussolini’s Rome

An illustrated essay by Timothy J. Valente (Rutgers ’15)


Excerpt from roster of “subversive” graffiti, reported in early May 1929 to the Governatorato di Roma. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The many thousands of newly discovered documents in the Boncompagni Ludovisi family archive in the Villa Aurora cover the period from the earliest 1400s through the 1940s. Among these are various dossiers from the office of Prince Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi as Governor of Rome (1928-1935). One of these, dated to May of 1929, adds unusual insight both into the inner workings of his administration and modes of popular resistance to Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

By spring of 1929, Mussolini had consolidated his dictatorship in political, aesthetic, and personal terms. Rival political parties had been outlawed, and the Public Safety Law of 6 November 1926 had banned dissent in any way damaging to order or the authorities. On 11 February 1929 the “Roman Question” had finally been solved with the Lateran Pacts signed between the Vatican and Italian state. From the cult of ‘Il Duce’ to the re-glorification of Ancient Rome, from architectural reorganization of the Eternal City to the takeover of Italian film production, the regime sought to inundate the masses with propaganda and also censor dissent.

[Read more…]

World Heritage Strategy Forum recap: address by HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi to Institute for Digital Archaeology conference at Harvard


Harvard University’s Loeb House, principal location for the proceedings of the World Heritage Strategy Forum 2016 (9-11 September)

The 10 September address at Harvard University of HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi to participants at the Institute for Digital Archaeology‘s World Heritage Strategy Forum 2016 made such a splash that we requested to publish the text of her remarks here. Here is the speech as written, with the addition of illustrations and hyperlinks.

“It is such an honor to appear before you, the Monument Men and Women of the 21st Century. You are my heroes and heroines. While others are spreading tyranny, fear and despair—you are fighting back with technology, intellect and hope.

It is stunningly appropriate that we are gathered here on the campus of Harvard University for our World Heritage Strategy Forum. For it was a rather unassuming professor from the Harvard Department of the Classics, Mason Hammond, who in summer 1943 was appointed the first of the Monuments Men.


Professor Mason Hammond as pictured in the faculty section of the 1941 Harvard Class Album

[Read more…]

IDA conference at Harvard features Villa Aurora film, keynote by Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi


It’s coming up quick. The Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) hosts the World Heritage Strategy Forum 2016 at Harvard University from Friday 9 to Sunday 11 September. The focus of this Forum? Technical solutions to heritage conservation challenges, legal and policy frameworks for preserving heritage material, and the present-day relevance of ancient objects and classical texts.

As a part of the conference proceedings, the IDA will present the world premiere screening of The Princess of Piombino, a feature film co-produced by Dena Seidel and (Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi head) Corey Brennan, directed by Gabriela Figueredo and Sean Feuer, with Adam Nawrot as field director. You can see a trailer here.


The Princess of Piombino documents the extraordinary heritage conservation program undertaken by HSH Principe Nicolò and HSH Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi at their home, the Villa Aurora in Rome, which has been in the family’s possession since 1621. The premiere will feature a Q&A with the Principessa and the film’s creative team followed by a reception.


In addition to formal talks, the World Heritage Strategy Forum offers technical demonstrations, panel discussions, hands-on workshops and unstructured sessions designed to promote conversation and fellowship. The diverse group of more than 30 expert speakers includes Roger Michel (The IDA, Boston University), Azra Akšamija (MIT), Emma Dench (Harvard University), Khaled Hiatlih (Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, Syria), Mary Lefkowitz (Wellesley College), Mariya Polner (World Customs Organization), and Minna Silver (CIPA-ICOMOS).

Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi will deliver the conference’s keynote address, in connection with a gala dinner at Harvard’s Peabody Museum.


Harvard’s Peabody Museum 100 years ago—postcard of 1916

Further information and registration for the World Heritage Strategy Forum 2016 is available here. Students who wish to can apply for a fee waiver by emailing a short personal statement to the Institute for Digital Archaeology at See you there!

CaravaggioRoom copy

In the Villa Aurora, from the making of The Princess of Piombino. From l., Adam Nawrot, HSH Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Sean Feuer. Above, Caravaggio‘s ‘Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto’



At Harvard’s Loeb House, 9 September 2016: from left, Dr Alexy Karenowska (Magdalen College Oxford / IDA Director of Technology), Roger Michel (Boston University / IDA Founder & Executive Director), Prof Herb Golder (Boston University / Editor, Arion) and HSH Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi



At the premiere screening (10 September 2016), ‘Princess of Piombino’ directors Gabriela Figueredo Rutgers ’15) and Sean Feuer (Rutgers ’14)

Rediscovered Gagliardi fresco cycle in Villa Aurora prompts blanket press coverage in Japan; Dr Mayu Fujikawa explains why


The Yomiuri Shimbun, the largest-circulation newspaper in the world, covers new discoveries at the Villa Aurora on 13 August 2016

As faithful readers of this blog will most certainly know, this June 2016 there was discovered at the Villa Aurora in Rome along-hidden fresco cycle showing scenes from the life of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni, including his reception of the (Jesuit-inspired) first Japanese embassy to the west in 1585. The four ambassadors were later ordained as the first Japanese Jesuit fathers.

The location? Above a false ceiling in the former dining room of the Villa’s piano nobile. The artist? Pietro Gagliardi (1809-1890), who is said to have spent the three years 1855-1858 executing the frescoes for his patron Prince Antonio Boncompagni Ludovisi (Prince of Piombino from 1841-1883). The full scene was known previously only from a pair of photographs taken in 1904. You can read about the multi-year quest by Corey Brennan, Anthony Majanlahti and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi herehere and (most recently) here.

The fresco was photographed in June through two small apertures in the false ceiling and remains covered, though Prince Nicolo’ and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi are in the process of organizing its exposure and restoration.

Over the weekend of 12-14 August 2016, each of the five national newspapers in Japan (AsahiMainichiYomiuriSankei, and Nikkei Shimbun), and—thanks to distribution by the Kyodo Tsushin news network—most of the regional papers from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south covered this exciting and unexpected story. Here is an English version, from the national paper the Mainichi Shimbun.


Coverage of Gagliardi discovery from the English version of the Mainichi Shimbun (13 August 2016)

To better understand the keen interest that the Japanese press has shown in the Villa Aurora discoveries, we turned to Dr Mayu Fujikawa, a Japanese-born expert on Italian Renaissance art who is a 2015/6 Visiting Fellow at the European University Institute in Fiesole. After receiving her PhD in Art History from Washington University in St. Louis (WUSL), Dr Fujikawa has held positions also at Ithaca College, Bucknell University, Middlebury College, WUSL, and the University of California at Berkeley. [Read more…]

New from 1552: An autograph declaration of Ugo Boncompagni (= Pope Gregory XIII) and the threefold legitimation of his son Giacomo, Duke of Sora (1548-1612) [Part II of II]


Archivist’s cover of Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi protocollo 1 no. 14. All photos: Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

An essay / text + translation in two parts by Michael Antosiewicz (Rutgers’18)

In Part I of this piece we examined the context for the decision of the cleric Ugo Boncompagni, the future Pope Gregory XIII (1505-1572-1585) to have a child, and the threefold process by which he had his son, Giacomo or Jacopo Boncompagni (born 8 May 1548), legitimated. Below is my transcription and translation of the second of those legitimation documents, a declaration of paternity that Ugo Boncompagni wrote in his own hand and signed on 22 December 1552  (Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi prot. 1 no. 14).

Pio Pecchiai in his article “La nascita’ di Giacomo Boncompagni” (Archivi 21 (1954) 9-47, at 32-34)  published a transcription of this document. But my text represents a new (and I hope improved) transcription from the original (digitized) declaration, as well as its first translation into English.


Palazzo Boncompagni, 6 Via del Monte, Bologna



Parisius late consuluit cons. X. vol 2. qui loquitur in fortioribus terminis videlicet etiam in nato ex adulterio et in cons. 13. eodem vol. et licet loquatur ibi in nato in domo patris tamen idem est hoc casu cum ex commissione mea ratione honestatis domus nostre et ut supra dixi quia mea intentio erat illam dare in uxorem magistro Simone qui laborabat in domo ne ipse de hoc haberet noticiam exivit domum ad istum effectum pariendi tantum et non ob aliam causam ut scit D. Ludovica a malvasia et D. Dorathea de Scapis et alie mulieres que tunc in domo conservabantur et sic non vero ex hoc fienda difficultas cum domum ex mea commissione exiverit et ad istum effectum tantum. Et sciunt mulier Magistri Alexandri tonsoris Jeronimi et eius fillie in cuius domo peperit.

 Parisio consulted widely Consiglia X. vol. 2, which says in rather strong terms namely in the case of a birth from adultery, and in Consiglia 13 of the same volume, and although it says there in the case of a birth in the home of the father, nevertheless it is the same in respect to this case since it happened by my command for the reason of the integrity of our home, and as I said above that my intention was to give her as a wife to Master Simone, who has laboring in the house, lest he himself have gain any public notoriety of this affair, she exited the house only for the purpose of giving birth and not on account of another cause as D. Ludovica Malvasia knows and D. Dorathea de Scapis and the other women who were at that time staying in the house; and thus trouble should truthfully not be made from this since she exited the home by my command and only to that effect [of giving birth]. And the wife of Master Alexander, the barber of Girolamo and his daughters, in whose house she gave birth, know [these things].

De eius nativitate Jeronimus fecit memoriam in quodam suo libello memorialium qui reperitur in hac capsa copto ex albo ex qua memoria una cum die legitimationis et ex die nuptiarum in quibus rogatus <est> Ser Vitalis de bobus et ex quadam lista existente in dicto libello de bonis illi datis quod tempore nativitatis Jacobi Madalena non erat nupta et sic natus est ex soluta ut in legitimatione dicitur.

 Concerning his [Giacomo’s] birth Gironamo made a memorial in a certain pamphlet of his of memorials, which is found in this chest from a covered album; from this memorial together with the day of legitimation and from the day of marriage, which Ser. Vitale de Bobus recorded [Vitale be Buoi, the family’s notary], and from a certain extant list in the said pamphlet concerning the heredity given to him, [it stands] that at the time of the birth of Jacopo Madalena was not married and thus he [Giacomo] was born from an unmarried woman just as he is said to be in legitimation.


Recordo como esendo Io Ugo di Bonco(m)pagni tornato dal conc. di Trento et esendo in bologna col detto conc. del a(n)no 1547, et have(n)do diviso co(n) mei fratelli la robba di nostro patre, quale era morto esendo io in Trento et have(n)domi loro (contro mia voglia) data la casa nova per indiviso co(n) Giro. mio fratello el quale no(n) havia figlioli, mi parse di proverdermi de figlioli quali potesano habitar(e) in deta casa volendo io stare a roma, et esendo una giovane in casa quale era senza marito, che stava co(n) Madonna Laura moglie di Giro., mia cognata, e chiamata Madalena hebbi da fare co(n) lei e, dopo alcuni giorni la ingravadai e, stete in casa cusi gravida p. molti mesi como da tutti che venivano in casa seli vedeva el corpo grosso.

I record how I, Ugo di Boncompagni, having returned from the Council of Trent, and being in Bologna with the said Council of the year of 1547, and having divided the estate of our father with my brothers, who died when I was in Trent, and they having given to me (against my will) the new house inalienably with Girolamo my brother who does not have children, it seemed to me a good idea to provide myself with children, who would be able to inhabit the said house with I wanting to stay in Rome, and there being a young girl in the house who was without a husband, that was staying with Madonna Laura, wife of Girolamo, my sister-in-law, and <the girl was> called Madalena; I had business to take care of with her and after a few days I impregnated her; and she stayed in the house pregnant as such for many months so that everyone that kept on coming to the house would themselves see the [her] fattened body;


Poi quando fu el te(m)po de parturire (p. eser l’intentione mia di maritarla azo no(n) si palegiase cusi che havese fato uno figliolo anchora che si dicesse publicame(n)te chera gravida di me), perche havia pensato in M. Simone che murava in casa, Parse a Gironamo di mandarla in casa di M. Alessandro mio barbiere e, suo compatre dove li stete a parturir(e) e, mi fece un figliolo maschio alli 8 maggio 1548, el quale fu portato in casa dala comatre, consignato a Ma. Laura mia cognata p. mio figlio e, lei p. tale el p/e [NOTE 1] e, li trovo una balia, a la quale io pagava L. 50 l’an(n)o.

Afterwards when it had been time to give birth (for it being my intention to marry her, she therefore did not show herself in such a way that she made me a child, although she proclaimed herself publicly to be pregnant by me), because I was thinking about Master Simone who was building in the house, it seemed to Gironamo a good idea to send her to the house of Master Alessandro, my barber and her godfather, where she stayed to give birth; and she made me a boy on the eighth of May 1548, who was brought into the house by his Godmother, consigned to Madonna Laura, my sister-in-law, as my son, and she as such (?) and she found him, my son, a wet-nurse, to whom I was paying L. 50 each year.

A li 9 fu bategiato e, chiamato Jac. lo tene a batessimo M. Ghedino di Segno. Poi la Madalena, finito chebbe el parto torno in casa e, feci che Giro. li trovo marito p. via di M. Antonio triachino cioe M. Simone murator(e) et io li ma(n)dai p. el bancho de li ozelai [NOTE 2] scudi ce(n)to venti cinq(ue) d’oro quali li pago Math di li amorini cioe sc. 100 d’oro p. la dota e, 25 p. vestirla ne fu rogato Ser Vitale dai boi di deto matrimonio e, dota e, cusi Jaco e sempre stato alevato da Giro et Ma. Laura de le mie entrate e, p. mio figliolo Como sano le done che praticavano in casa cioe Ma. Dorothea di scapi co(n) tutti li soi figlioli Ma. Ludovica malvasia e, tutti quelli di casa sua La moglie di M Jero dal Ferro e, lui e, li soi figlioli, Mo Alex. barbiero co(n) la sua moglie e, sue figliole, Nicola Jacheta e, le sue done Ma. Isabeta e Lucretia sua figliola che stano da S.Martino quale sano el tutto; Orsolina che gia stava co(n) quelli dal ferro Tutti li vicini e, tutti li parenti e, M. Jo. bat. maltacheto la tenuto a cresima p. mio figliolo.

On the ninth he was baptized and called Jacopo. M. Ghedino di Segno held him at his baptism. Afterwards Madalena, once she had finished giving birth, returned to the [our] house. And I made it that Girolamo found there a husband by way of Master Antonio Triachino; that is, Master Simone the mason; and I ordered for him, through the bank of the ozelai, 125 scudi of gold which Math. of the Armorini paid him, namely 100 scudi for the dowry and 25 scudi for dressing her; Ser. Vitale dai boi chronicled the marriage and dowry. And as such Jacomo has always been raised by Girolamo and Madonna Laura by my income and as my son, as the women that were frequenting my house know, namely, Madonna Dorothea di Scapi with all her children, Madonna Ludovica Malvasia and all those of her house, the wife of Mr. Jer. dal Ferro and himself and his children, Master Alexander the barber with his wife and his children, Nicola Jacheta and her girls, Madonna Isabata and Lucretia her daughter who were from S. Martino who know the whole affair; Orsolina that was staying already with the dal Ferro; all the neighbors and all the relatives. And Master Jo. Bapt. Maltacheto held him at his confirmation as my child.


Tutti quelli praticavano in casa cioe maestro Philepono falignamo Jacomo ferrarese taglia pietra el Brocca da varignana li muratori li falegnami e, li depintori filioli di Biaggio depintor(e) el pentraca bre(n)tador(e) compatre di Gir. Mascarono Ludovico depintor(e) che depinse el cortille, Vince(n)tio pizalpasso Marscoto che alora stava co(n) mi in bologna che sta adeso p. Paraferniero del Rmo Mathera Camilo mio servitor(e) che alora era in bologna con mi, Joane credenciero Tutti li nostri contadini cioe a quello te(m)po li bagnoli, li torches, li poggij Girolamo che stava a S. Lazaro Jac. chera galinaro di Giro Bertino dal scelaro zopo M. Hercule severole da faenza pensator(e) in roma col qual veni a roma dal concilio di bologna e, li co(n)tai tutto el fatto e, tutti li pare(n)ti sano certo eser(e) mio figliolo e dicano asimigliarsi a nui dela casa e, che par(e) figliolo di Ma. Jacoma nostra sorela e, cusi lo te(n)go p. tale mio figlio e, da tutti voglio sia tenuto e, cognoscuto Ne credo che alcuno li possa dir(e) el contrario se no(n) p. malignita, el che non credo ne mancho [NOTE 3] seli habia da fare contraditione esendoli la casa notoria e, p. tale al presente lo te(n)go in casa mia in bologna sotto lo governo di Ma. Laura mia cognata e, in fede alli 22 di decemebr(e) nel 1552. Ho fatto la presente Jo Ugo di Boncompagni.

All those that were frequenting the house, namely Master Philepono the carpenter, Giacomo the stone cutter from Ferrara, the Brocca from Varignana, the masons, the carpenters, the apprentices of the painter Baggio; the Pentraca wine-porter, the godfather of Gir. Mascarono; Ludovico the painter that painted the courtyard, Vincentio Pizalpasso Marscoto who was then staying with me in Bologna, that now remains as the Paraferniero of Rmo Mathera; Camilo my servant that was then in Bologna with me, Joana the wine-taster; All our farmers, namely at that time the Bagnoli, the Torchij, the Poggij, Girolamo that was staying at S. Lazaro, Jacomo who, a lame person, was the seller of hens of Gir. Bertino; Master Hercule Severole from Faenza, a thinker in Rome, with whom I came to Rome from the Council of Bologna, to all of them [whom I just listed] I related the entire affair; and all the relatives know for certain that he is my child and they would say that he resembles us of the said house and that he appears to be the son of Madonna Jacoma our sister. And as such I hold him as my son and I want him to be esteemed and recognized by everyone. Nor do I believe that anyone could speak the contrary against him if not for malignity, and since the reputed house is there [as proof], I do not believe anyone with have cause to make contradiction, and as such for the present I keep him in my house in Bologna under the governorship of Madonna Laura my sister-in-law.


Et Boncompagnus appellat illum meum fillium ut ex eius litteris hic apparet et ex litteris etiam dictae Laurae apparet

I, Ugo di Boncompagni, made this present <declaration>. And Boncompagno calls that one my son as he appears here from the records of him and as he also appears from the letters of the said Laura.

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Interior of Palazzo Boncompagni, Bologna, built between 1539 and 1546. The attribution to the famed architect Baldassare Peruzzi of the cortile bears investigation, since he died in 1536

[NOTE 1] This phrase has caused much confusion for both of the earlier transcribers of the document and myself. One interpretation renders the phrase “al presente,” “at the present.” I find this solution unsatisfactory. In the first place, it changes the singular masculine article into a preposition. Since lowercase “a” and “e” are very distinguishable in Ugo’s handwriting, I feel that it is a change that cannot be reasonably made. This view also fails to take into account the subsequent occurrences of “presente” in the declaration. “Presente” is otherwise fully written or abbreviated differently from the “p/e” in this case. In one of those instances, the phrase “al presente” does occur with a clearly written “al.” In my view, the “p/e” is an abbreviated adjective or noun and forms a predicative phrase with the article (el p/e) in apposition to an implied object pronoun “lo” and an implied verb, such as “tenere”—the translation thereby being, “she holds him as the (noun)/ (adjective) one” Although this interpretation does make its own assumptions, it does reflect formulations used elsewhere in the document and better accords to the context. Further research into the legal texts used to argue legitimation may reveal what “p/e” actually means.

[NOTE 2] This name most likely refers to a bank or a banking family.

[NOTE 3] The phrase “ne mancho” is still not clear; it most likely bears some legal significance that will be clarified with further legal research. Nonetheless, the sentence indicates that the house, on account of its reputation (“notoria”), confirms Ugo’s account and certifies Giacomo’s legitimate filiation.

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This register of cash disbursements by the Boncompagni family (compiled 1712) shows that a dowry for a  marriage was promised to Giacomo Boncompagni’s mother on 13 November 1548 (five months after she gave birth)—and finally paid on 11 May 1551. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

About the author:  Michael Antosiewicz is an undergraduate student in the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program at Rutgers University. Michael majors in History and Classics with a focus in both Greek and Latin. He is also a Lloyd C. Gardner Fellow. He has assisted with the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi project since 2015, under the auspices of Rutgers’ Aresty Undergraduate Research Assistant Program. His interests primarily consist of early-modern and nineteenth century cultural history as well as examining the evolving meaning of the “classical” tradition during that time period. His plans involve becoming a professor of either History or Classics.

Warmest thanks, as always, are owed to HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, for making this archival research possible.


Ugo Boncompagni = Pope Gregory XIII. From Pompeo Litta, Famiglie celebri italiane II (1836)


New from 1552: An autograph declaration of Ugo Boncompagni (= Pope Gregory XIII) and the threefold legitimation of his son Giacomo, Duke of Sora (1548-1612) [Part I of II]


An essay / translation in two parts by Michael Antosiewicz (Rutgers’18)

One of the most remarkable documents in the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi at the Villa Aurora is the 22 December 1552 declaration written by Ugo Boncompagni, the future Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1572-1585), asserting the legitimate filiation of his son Giacomo Boncompagni, the Duke of Sora. That child had been born to him four and half years previous, on 8 May 1548.

This 1552 document represents the second of three efforts on the part of Ugo to secure the legitimacy of his son begotten out of wedlock. The first effort consists of a diploma of legitimation issued by Tommaso Campeggi, Bishop of Feltre (Veneto), on 5 July 1548, prefaced by a short declaration of paternity in Ugo’s hand, written on 20 July of that year. The third effort was a Papal Bull issued by Ugo as Gregory XIII on 13 June 1572, only a month after his ascension to the papacy.


From July 1548, autograph declaration of paternity by Ugo Boncompagni (left) and legitimation document by Tommaso Campeggi, Bishop of Feltre, held in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano. Credit: G. Venditti et al., Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi. Inventario I (2008), plates facing p. 60

The December 1552 document is significant for a number of reasons. In the first place, it discloses full details of a story that would be unimaginable today: a Pope having a son. Secondly, it provides key insights into one of the most formative chapters of the Boncompagni (later Boncompagni Ludovisi) dynasty when the family’s destiny was in serious jeopardy nor foreseeable. Lastly, it captures a convergence of social, legal, cultural and ecclesiastical histories. You can see a transcription and translation of the 1552 Declaration in Part II of this post.


From Pompeo Litta, Famiglie celebri italiane II (1836). This image of Giacomo Boncompagni (detail) reproduces his (1594) portrait by Lavinia Fontana; that story is told here

Besides its scholarly significance, the document is also striking on account of its placement in the Boncompagni Ludovisi private archive over the past several centuries. To date, only a few scholars—and none in the last 60 years—have ever seen the declaration. For the circumstances of its preservation and rediscovery, and then second rediscovery, see here.


From the Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi at the Villa Aurora: archival “cover” for the 1552 declaration relating circumstances of its rediscovery in 1870

Boncompagni Ludovisi family archivist Giuseppe Felici typed up a tentative transcription of this document in the late 1940s, that has remained unpublished in the Villa Aurora archive. And Pio Pecchiai (1882-1965) in his article “La nascita’ di Giacomo Boncompagni” (Archivi 21 (1954) 9-47, at 32-34) published a transcription of this declaration, as well as those of additional documents that together form a dossier on the legitimation of Ugo Boncompagni’s son, with extensive commentary. But scholars have not had access to the document in the interim, and an English translation of the document has not existed before now.

However amazing and impactful this document is, it never should have been written. As a tonsured cleric on course to an austere life of legal and doctrinal disputes, Ugo Boncompagni was never supposed to have a son, if not for a family crisis compelling him for the sake of securing the family’s heredity.


Detail from diploma granting Roman citizenship to Giacomo Boncompagni, 27 July 1573. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Here is some basic background. Between 1543 and 1546, the Boncompagni family suffered a scourge of deaths. Altogether five of eight sons would perish: Gian Francesco (b. 1494), Antonio (b. 1496), Giorgio (b. 1498), Sebastiano (b. 1506), and Ludovico Boncompagni (b. 1507). These deaths had great ramifications for the process of inheritance; with the eldest son, Gian Francesco, dead, the inheritance had fallen into some confusion. This confusion peaked with the death of Cristoforo Boncompagni, the family’s patriarch, in 1546.

At the time of Cristoforo’s death, only three Boncompagni brothers were alive to manage their family’s estate, which now included a palazzo in Bologna still under construction. In addition to Ugo, there were his older brother by three years Girolamo Boncompagni (b. 1499) and his younger brother by two years Boncompagno Boncompagni (b. 1504). Unfortunately, neither Girolamo nor Boncompagno would prove viable heirs.

One would suspect that as the eldest remaining brother, Girolamo would have been a perfect heir, especially since he was already married, to one Laura Dal Ferro. The couple, however, did not have any children nor would produce any in their lifetime. If the family’s heredity was transferred to them, it would have soon been discontinued.

On the other hand, Boncompagno was an even worse candidate. Although he was married with a child, he was severely estranged from his family, especially from Ugo. Historians would later note that upon his election as Pontiff, Ugo refused to receive his brother at the Vatican. The exact reason for their estrangement remains uncertain, although his wife Cecilia Bargellini may have contributed to a rift between him and his father. Nonetheless, both Girolamo and Boncompagno did not represent viable heirs.


Detail from diploma granting Roman citizenship to Giacomo Boncompagni, 27 July 1573. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Ugo was as an equally unviable heir as his brothers if not more so. In 1539, he received the first tonsure and started his meteoric rise within the Church. This act barred Ugo from marriage and consequently eliminated any possibility of producing a naturally legitimate heir. Just as in the case of Girolamo, Ugo had no descendants to whom to transmit his family’s increasing heredity. In order for the Boncompagni family to retain their heredity, drastic measures had to be taken.

Having left the Bolognese universities in 1539 to work in the Roman Curia, in 1547 Ugo finally returned to Bologna, to attend the Council of Trent. In that year the Council was transferred from Trent to Bologna, though the Council was to never meet in this location.

Ugo had been aloof of the details of his family’s situation. In fact, the evidence suggests that Ugo did not know of his father’s death until he returned to Bologna. As one could imagine, his homecoming after an absence of eight years would have been hectic. He would have discovered not only the deaths of his father and his brothers, but the urgency of resolving the family’s inheritance crisis.


Palazzo Boncompagni, Bologna. Credit: Corey Brennan

From the 1548 and 1552 documents we know the details of what happened next. When Ugo arrived in Bologna, Girolamo and his household inhabited the family’s new palazzo. One of the members of Girolamo’s household was an unmarried young woman (“dona soluta”) named Madalena De Fulchinis. She is described as staying with Laura, the wife of Girolamo, and most likely was a domestic servant. Ugo decided to have a child with her.

In the 1552 declaration, Ugo describes this sequence of events with the following (euphemistic) words: “hebbi da fare con lei e dopo alcuni giorni la ingravadai” (“I had things to get done with her, and after a few days I impregnated her”).

Over the next few months Madalena stayed in the family’s home. Right before she gave birth, Girolamo sent her to stay in the house of Maestro Alessandro, Ugo’s barber. On May 8, 1548 Madalena “made a masculine child” in Alessandro’s house; Giacomo was born!


Palazzo Boncompagni, Bologna: detail of doors. Credit: Corey Brennan

Some time after she gave birth (no sooner than November 1548) Madalena was married to a Simone Antonio Scarani of Milan, a mason working in the palazzo. She went to live with Simone and had no part in raising Giacomo. Not much other information is available on the remainder of her life.

Giacomo was immediately delivered into the “guardianship” of his aunt Laura Dal Ferro, wife of Girolamo, and was raised by her. Ugo played no direct role in his upbringing at this time having immediately returned to Rome to resume Curial affairs. His only contribution consisted of his financial reimbursements to Laura and Girolamo for any costs incurred in raising the child.

According to the 1552 declaration, it seems Laura assumed this position without resisting. Moreover, Giacomo is said to have “resembled” those of the house, fitting into his home and his family’s elevated social sphere.


Detail from diploma granting Roman citizenship to Giacomo Boncompagni, 27 July 1573. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

With Giacomo’s birth, the process of legitimation commenced to make Giacomo a legal and rightful heir. Back in Rome Ugo stayed at the house of Tommaso Campeggi, the Bishop of Feltre, who himself hailed from a prominent Bolognese family. Just two months after his birth, on 5 July 1548, Campeggi issued a diploma that legitimated Giacomo. In his own handwriting, Ugo a few weeks later (on 20 July) added a paragraph to the front of the document that briefly summarizes the circumstances of conception and the sequence of events.

Although Ugo technically accomplished his goal of securing a legitimate heir, he continued to reaffirm Giacomo’s legitimation. The 1552 document plays a special role in this process.

Whereas the 1548 diploma and the 1572 document wield ecclesiastical authority, the 1552 declaration constructs a legal argument for legitimation. The declaration operates in two parts and uses two languages.


Detail from diploma granting Roman citizenship to Giacomo Boncompagni, 27 July 1573; he had been prefect of the Papal stronghold of Castel S Angelo (depicted here) since 23 May 1572. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The first section cites, in Latin, legal precedents for legitimation. The legal precedents derive from the Consilia of Pietro Paulo Parisio, Ugo’s prolific colleague at the University of Bologna.

The next section, in Italian, demonstrates compliance to the legal stipulations. The Italian narrative relates the sequence of events once Ugo returned to Bologna, the circumstances of conception, the arrangement of Madalena’s marriage and dowry, as well as the arrangements for Giacomo’s upbringing.

Most importantly, the document provides an extensive and comprehensive list of all those in the house or close to the family’s affairs that possessed knowledge of the affairs and thus could corroborate claims of legitimation. In fact, out of the document’s total four pages, nearly one full page of witnesses is given by Ugo—ranging from the family’s many friends, to workers in the house, to the tenant farmers on the Boncompagni estate.


Detail from diploma granting Roman citizenship to Giacomo Boncompagni, 27 July 1573. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

A close reading of the document provides details and insights into Ugo’s mindset and reasons for producing the 1552 declaration.

First and foremost, Ugo clearly wanted to ensure that Giacomo’s reputation and legitimate filiation were unassailable. He states: “cusi lo te(n)go p. tale mio figlio e, da tutti voglio sia tenuto e, cognoscuto Ne credo che alcuno li possa dir(e) el contrario se no(n) p. malignita” (“As such I hold him as my son, and from everyone I want him to be acknowledged and held; nor do I believe anyone could speak the contrary against him if not for malignity”).

Furthermore, it is clear that Ugo decided to have a child out of familial necessity. With chilling ease he explains in the beginning of the document that he decided to “provide myself with children” who “potesano habitar in deta casa volendo io stare a roma” (“could live in the said house [the Palazzo Boncompagni] since I want to stay in Rome”).

Clearly, Ugo wished to continue his ascendance in the Curia and viewed Giacomo as a way to secure and maintain a presence over the family’s affairs in Bologna.


Palazzo Boncompagni, Bologna. Credit: Corey Brennan

Another interesting facet of the document consists of its legal language. Ugo uses particular words and phrases throughout the document as well as emphasizes certain details.

One legal formulation stands out; it concerns the family’s public reputation: “p. eser l’intentione mia di maritarla azo no(n) si palegiase cusi che havese fato uno figliolo anchora che si dicesse publicame(n)te chera gravida di me” (“it being my intention to marry her off, she [Madalena] therefore did not show herself in a way that she had a child, although she did publicly declare to be pregnant by me”).

For the sake of legitimation Ugo’s paternity had to be well-attested, but knowledge of Madalena’s giving birth could not be dispersed publicly as it would interfere with her marriage to Simone the mason.

The legitimation process of Giacomo Boncompagni finally ends 24 years after his birth, and 20 years after our document. In a Papal Bull of 1572, Ugo decrees his son’s legitimate filiation and thus also validated his social prominence.


From 1572, Papal bull by Pope Gregory XIII legitimating his son Giacomo Boncompagni, held in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano. Credit: G. Venditti et al., Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi. Inventario I (2008), plates facing p. 60

On the whole, this series of events concerning the legitimation of Giacomo Boncompagni constitute more than one of the most crucial periods in the history of the Boncompagni Ludovisi dynasty. It details and illuminates a world that in so many ways feels so remote but yet reverberates to the present day.

A transcription and translation of the 1552 Declaration follow in Part II of this post.

Warmest thanks, as always, are owed to HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, for making this archival research possible.


From Pompeo Litta, Famiglie celebri italiane II (1836). This image of Giacomo Boncompagni (detail) reproduces his (1594) portrait by Lavinia Fontana; the letter shows his status on the “Secret Council” of the Duchy of Milan

New from 1855-1858: Masterwork of Pietro Gagliardi for Antonio Boncompagni Ludovisi (Prince of Piombino 1841-1883) rediscovered


Newly-revealed decorative Telamon, from NE corner of Salone of Piano Nobile, Casino Aurora. All photos from collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Avid readers of the blog may remember the quest for the lost frescoed ceiling of Pietro Gagliardi (1809-1890) depicting scenes from the life of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni that he executed in the Casino Aurora in the years 1855-1858. (If you don’t, here is Part I and Part II.)

Well here ’tis.


Newly-revealed portrait of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1621-1632), from east wall of Salone of Piano Nobile, Casino Aurora

In September 2012 Corey Brennan discovered photographic proof (from 1904) of the existence of this ceiling, and from the photos and various written accounts identified the scenes, painter and date, and posited two possible locations in the Casino Aurora.

A combination of Anthony Majanlahti’s minute examination of the Villa Aurora’s floor plans and Corey Brennan’s discovery of further written accounts forced the conclusion that the missing frescoes must be well above a modern (post WW II) drop ceiling in the former salone of the piano nobile, which was spectacularly confirmed on 11 June 2016.


Newly-revealed depiction of first Japanese embassy to the west (1585), from N wall of Salone of Piano Nobile, Casino Aurora

Deep thanks as always are owed to HSH Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, who have encouraged this research for many years.

More to follow!

Photo credits for all color images in this post: Simeon Rykembusch. Special thanks for expert advice on the iconography of the Embassy scene: Dr. Mayu Fujisawa (European University Institute).

Additional thanks to Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi board member Professor Bernard Frischer, and also Matthew Brennan (both Indiana University) for technical support on day of find.


Several US newspapers in January-March 1904 ran a feature on the Casino Aurora that contained a photo of its upper Salone as decorated by Pietro Gagliardi in 1855-1858, no longer visible today. This was the clue that started this investigation



Two photos above: view of  S wall (Gregory XIII’s calendar reform of 1582) and N Wall (Japanese Tensho Embassy of 1585) of Casino Aurora’s Salone of Piano Nobile, long obscured by post WW II drop ceiling

In Sweden, the rediscovery of a Lavinia Fontana portrait—of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni’s daughter-in-law, Costanza Sforza


Medal (dated 1611, by F. A. Casoni) depicting two sides of the Bolognese painter Lavinia Fontana. The reverse legend: PER TE STATO GIOIOSO MI MANTENE (“because of you I am in a constant fervor”). Credit: Dr Busso Peus Nachfolger

Well, this certainly is unexpected. Just announced in Sweden by the renowned Uppsala Auktionskammare is the rediscovery of a brilliant example of Boncompagni patronage of the arts. It is a 1594 portrait by none other than Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614).

Fontana’s subject? Costanza Sforza of Santa Fiore (1560-1617), wife of the Duke of Sora, Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612). Giacomo himself was the legitimated son of Ugo Boncompagni = Pope Gregory XIII (1505-1572-1585). So at the time of her marriage in 1576—at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, with the whole College of Cardinals in attendance—Costanza Sforza found herself in the unusual position of daughter-in-law to a reigning Pope.


The rediscovered portrait of Costanza Sforza by Bolognese painter Lavinia Fontana. The sale by Uppsala Auktionskammare takes place 14 June 2016. Credit: Uppsala Auktionskammare

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Ex-Ludovisi portrait of Antinous, long split between Rome and Chicago, stunningly matched then reunited through thrilling technology

When it comes to investigative art history, you’ve got to hand it to the Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art of the Art Institute of Chicago. Since early April—and until 28 August 2016—a fascinating exhibition has been telling the story of how the museum managed to reunite the truncated face of a Roman marble portrait, long held in its collection, with its original sculptural bust housed at the Museo Nazionale Romano Palazzo Altemps [inv. no. 8620].

The paired portrait fragment and the bust (now with an early modern face, and a clearly visible join) represent the emperor Hadrian’s presumed lover, the Bithynian youth Antinous, who drowned under suspect circumstances in the Nile on 30 October 130. And the kicker is that the bust—and conceivably also the separated face—once formed part of the Ludovisi collection of ancient sculpture.


3D scale model at (one-third) combining the Antinous pieces in Chicago and Rome. From the online catalogue Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago (in turn crediting Studio MCM srl, Rome)

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

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

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Detail of Guercino’s Aurora. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Our discussion continues of the celebration of the Nozze d’Oro (Golden Wedding Anniversary) of Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1832-1911), the eighth Prince of Piombino, and the Princess of Piombino Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi (1836-1920).

In Part I we explored how the Boncompagni Ludovisi family was forced due to financial exigencies to rent their famed Casino Aurora (starting in 1895) to the new American Academy in Rome—and then to see the Americans leave them off the invitation list when King Vittorio Emanuel III and Queen Elena attended a landmark exhibition there on 11 January 1904.

In Part II we discussed how the Boncompagni Ludovisi managed to get back for the space of one day the use of their Casino Aurora for the Golden Wedding festivities of 31 May 1904, and why the lunch they staged attracted national press attention in Italy as “a conspicuous and brilliant party.”

In this final segment we shall see that the choice of the Casino Aurora as a venue was significant not just as a celebration of the fifty year marriage of the Prince and Princess. It was a powerful reminder of the family’s continued relevance at a time when powerful political, economic and social changes challenged it.


Plan of the Casino Aurora and its immediate area, made in connection with preparations for the 1904 Golden Wedding anniversary of Rodolfo and Agnese Boncompagni Ludovisi

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

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

NozzeDOro1904Book copy

In Part I of this story we saw how on 31 May 1904 the Boncompagni Ludovisi aimed to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of the head of family, Prince Rodolfo and his wife Princess Agnese (Borghese), at their Casino Aurora in Rome. But since 1895 the new American Academy in Rome had occupied the historic palace as renters, and so some negotiation was necessary to make the event possible.

After a mass celebrated in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the same church in which Rodolfo and Agnese were married in 1854, twenty-seven members of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family – four generations – celebrated in the Stanza dell’ Aurora. They dined together under Guercino’s depiction of Aurora’s transit from dawn to night, the course of one day.


Modern photo of the main hall of the Villa Aurora, the Stanza dell’Aurora. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

[Read more…]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

[Read more…]

Villa Aurora, Boncompagni Ludovisi subject of ‘The Princess of Piombino’ feature film


Rutgers Rome Stories is a student-directed series of four films, each of which seeks to animate an aspect of the idea of the Eternal City. You can see the projects—two theatrical trailers for feature-length documentaries to be released in 2015/6, and two short documentaries now complete—at the website

Chief among these is a documentary film— titled The Princess of Piombinoon the efforts of Prince Nicolo’ and Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi to preserve their iconic urban villa, the Casino Aurora.


Rutgers Rome Stories is the product of a multi-year collaboration between the Rutgers Center for Digital Filmmaking (Mason Gross School of the Arts), represented by its founding director, Dena Seidel; and the Department of Classics (School of Arts and Sciences), through associate professor (and Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi director) T. Corey Brennan. The undergraduate student videographers have their academic homes in either Mason Gross or SAS; all are enrolled in the certificate program of the Rutgers Center for Digital Filmmaking.

In general, the character-driven narratives that these Rutgers students have created, and filmed largely on location, offer a particularly innovative way of communicating some vital personal histories of Rome to a broad audience.


Credits for The Princess of Piombino:
A Rutgers Center for Digital Filmmaking production
Directed and filmed by Sean Feuer ’14 and Adam Nawrot ’14
Co-directors Gabriela Elise ’15 and Shaodi Huang ’16
Editors Sean Feuer ’14, Gabriela Elise ’15 and Shaodi Huang ’16
Producers Professors Corey Brennan and Dena Seidel
Associate producer Anthony Majanlahti
Funded by Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences
Made in the Rutgers Center for Digital Filmmaking, Mason Gross School of the Arts under the supervision of Professor Dena Seidel

School of Arts and Sciences : Department of Classics

Mason Gross School of the Arts : Center for Digital Filmmaking

Some 19th century ‘case’ of the Casa Boncompagni Ludovisi (Part II of II): Foligno

By Carol Cofone

In our last post we examined how the Boncompagni Ludovisi in the latter part of the 19th century came into some spectacular properties in central and north Italy. Marriages of a daughter, a granddaughter and a grandson of Rodolfo, Prince of Piombino (VIIII) from 1883-1911, increased still further the number of impressive case at the family’s disposal. These additions included a villa at Pelago in Tuscany, another (massive) villa at Bagnarola di Budrio near Bologna, a palazzo and villa at Merate in Lombardy, and a palazzo at Varallo Sesia in the Piedmont region.


Then there is the villa ‘La Quiete’ at Foligno in Umbria, closely associated with Agnese Borghese, who soon after her 18th birthday married Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi on 31 May 1854. But this villa was not an ancestral Borghese family possession.  Rather it came to the Boncompagni Ludovisi through Agnese’s own deep-seated desire, one which inspired her search for a summer home near Foligno. [Read more…]

Some 19th century ‘case’ of the Casa Boncompagni Ludovisi (Part I of II): Pelago, Bagnarola, Merate, Varallo


By Carol Cofone

In English, we have two words to help us understand how we feel about where we live:  “house” is the physical structure; “home” is the emotional shelter.  Not so in Italian. The word casa means house, and it means home, and it also means dynasty—as in the instance of the Casa Boncompagni Ludovisi, the Roman noble family that counts its lineage back to the 10th century AD.

These definitions can help us see how four generations of the family in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries who had ownership or access to a stunning array of properties felt about them. Their sensibilities were likely complex and confounding. For these four generations—whose birthdates encompass the period from ca. 1830-ca. 1910—the wonders of these castles and palaces, villas and tenute, perhaps seemed even commonplace. At any rate, in this period we do not find much evidence for the family indulging in a hedonistic enjoyment of the luxuries that attended their lives.

This ethos was sustained not least thanks to the influence of Agnese Borghese Boncompagni Ludovisi, born on 5 May 1836, and—as we shall see—from her earliest childhood instilled by her maternal grandmother with a “Borghesian” sense of the duty of nobility. Agnese married Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino (VIII), on 31 May 1854, and died on 22 March 1920 at the age of 83. All six of the couple’s children survived them. [Read more…]

“The Destruction of Rome”: Herman Grimm (1886) on the development of the Rione Ludovisi


The Villa Ludovisi as it appears in Rome’s Piano Regolatore of 1883—as yet untouched.

Herman Friedrich Grimm (1828-1901) was a groundbreaking German art historian with a special expertise in the art of Raphael and Michelangelo; more generally, he saw himself as the intellectual heir of Goethe. He was born into an academic family: his father Wilhelm and uncle Jakob (who for their entire lives shared the same roof) were the famous philologists and folklorists known as “The Brothers Grimm“.

In late January 1886 Herman Grimm penned a “letter”—really a full-blown essay—entitled The Destruction of Rome, in which he strongly expressed his disapproval of how Rome was physically adapting itself to serve as capital for the recently-created kingdom of Italy. It saw publication first in March of that year, in the Deutschen Rundschau, but then in many other venues, with translation into Italian and English. Here Grimm reserved particular scorn for the tragic dismantlement of “the most beautiful garden…[on] the whole earth”, the Villa Ludovisi. The relevant bits of the letter can be found below, at the end of this post. [Read more…]

Henry James and the Villa Ludovisi (Part I of II, non-fiction)

By Cecily Smith 

The American novelist Henry James (1843-1916) travelled to Italy a number of times (1869/70, 1873, 1880, 1886/7, 1894, 1899, 1907). During these visits, he spent a considerable amount of time in Rome and published extensive accounts of his stays in several American magazines. Those included Scribner’s MonthlyThe Century Magazine, The Galaxy, The Atlantic Monthly and The Nation. He later went on to revise these essays and republish them in two principal collections: the first, Transatlantic Sketches (1875), the second, Italian Hours (1909).


Among the many places he saw in Rome were the most important in the series of great urban villas. Though James stated that “he prefers none of them to the Villa Borghese“, and had special admiration for the Villa Medici, he wrote “and yet…you may stand in the little belvedere which rises with such surpassing oddity out of the dusky heard of the Boschetto at the latter establishment—a miniature presentation of the wood of Sleeping Beauty—and look across at the Ludovisi pines lifting their crooked parasols into a sky of what a painter would call the most morbid blue, and declare that the place where they grow is the most delightful in the world.” [Read more…]

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


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

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

New from 1706: an inventory (and cash assessment) of coins and medals in the ‘Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi’ (Part II of II)


In our last installment, we were examining a fascinating early eighteenth century inventory of coins and medals in the collection of the Boncompagni Ludovisi. The title page of this inventory, some 240 pages in length, reads “Descrizione succincta del Museo dell’ Ecc[ellessi]mo Sig[nore]e Principe di Piombino Boncompagni Ludovisi con l’apprezzo esiguito dal perito antiquario Sig. Giuseppe Magnavacca da Bologna sotto il dì 5 ottobre 1706″.

The Prince of Piombino in question is Gregorio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1642-1707), who—with his wife Olimpia Ippolita Ludovisi, whom he married in 1681—was the first to join the Boncompagni and Ludovisi names. And the assessor? Giuseppe Magnavacca (1639-1724) was a Bolognese erudite known especially as a pioneer in the emerging field of numismatics. But he also can be counted as an intimate of GuercinoPietro da Cortona, the art historian Carlo Cesare Malvasia, and indeed the contemporary artists who comprised Bologna’s Accademia Clementina, of which Magnavacca was a founding member.


This unpublished treatise by Boncompagni Ludovisi archivist Giuseppe Felici (completed March 1949) offers a comprehensive overview, working from primary documents, of the family’s historically important collections of gems, cameos, coins and medals.

So what were the circumstances of Giuseppe Magnavacca’s 1706 inventory of the Boncompagni Ludovisi coins and medals? For that, one has to go back—in fact, way back… [Read more…]

New from 1706: an inventory (and cash assessment) of coins and medals in the ‘Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi’ (Part I of II)


Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome (this and all MS photos below).

Here’s an item from the newly-recovered Boncompagni Ludovisi archive at the Villa Aurora that positively leaps to the eye—not so much for intrinsic value (it’s a copy, as we shall see) but for the brilliant light it throws on the history of collecting in the Seicento. Put briefly, it’s a careful inventory of 3557 coins and medals that Cardinal Girolamo Boncompagni (1622-1684, direct great-grandson of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni) had either inherited or purchased, and then willed (with the rest of his amazing estate) to the Ospedali della Vita e della Morte in Bologna.

The fascinating bit is that each item is assigned a contemporary cash value, in scudi Romani (the currency of the Papal States until 1866). As such, one gets not just a comprehensive overview of a premier 17th century numismatic collection, but also a spectacular lesson on what factors determined relative worth in the art market of that era. [Read more…]

New from 1581: Giacomo Boncompagni, son of Pope Gregory XIII, receives patrician status at Naples


Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome (this and all MS photos below).

Among the titles of Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino (XI), is Patrician of Naples. The origin of this distinction is not in doubt. It was Giacomo (Jacopo) Boncompagni (1548-1612), son of Pope Gregory XIII and 10th great-grandfather of Prince Nicolò, who was first in the family to be entered into the rolls of “Napoli Nobilissima”—more specifically, in the patriciate of the city’s Sedile di Capuana. But a precise date has been lacking, until the recent emergence of a spectacular document of 15 March 1581 in the Boncompagni Ludovisi family archives in their Villa Aurora in Rome. [Read more…]

Boston Globe (5 March 2013) highlights restoration of ex-Ludovisi ‘Juno’ at city’s Museum of Fine Arts


The ex-Ludovisi colossal ‘Juno’ receives a new nose and upper lip at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Credit: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe staff

Right on the front page of the 5 March 2013 Boston Globe—above the fold, at that—reporter Geoff Edgers offers an extensive feature on the colossal ex-Ludovisi ‘Juno’ that the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) acquired in 2011. Recently on this blog we detailed how the MFA received “Acquisition of the Year” accolades in December 2012 from Apollo magazine for the discovery and inspired purchase of the statue. The ex-Ludovisi ‘Juno’ is now firmly established in the MFA’s George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing for Art of the Ancient World, spectacularly installed in the Gallery that also bears the Behrakis name.

We’ll let the Boston Globe tell the latest chapter in the statue’s story. The headline? Massive facelift for ‘Juno’ at the MFA. Dogged sleuthing, sculptor’s finesse help recreate classical statue’s lost profile.

[Read more…]

New from 1858: Forgotten Gagliardi frescoes in the Villa Aurora [Part II]

Our last installment examined the evidence for frescoes that Pietro Gagliardi (1809-1890) executed in one of the 19th century wings of the Villa Aurora. The first clue that caught the eye of Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi director Corey Brennan? A grainy photograph that ran in several American newspapers in the winter of 1904.

The image (see above) showed part of an art and architectural drawing exhibition staged by the young American Academy in Rome. (The institution was renting the Villa Aurora from the Boncompagni Ludovisi at the time.) The newspapers showed the Academy Fellows’ work set in a richly frescoed sala—with ceiling paintings that since have disappeared from view in the Villa Aurora. [Read more…]

New from 1858: In the Villa Aurora, forgotten Gagliardi frescoes illustrating the pontificate of Gregory XIII Boncompagni [Part I]


The Deseret Evening News, 27 February 1904

It’s certainly an unexpected place to learn of a forgotten feature of Rome’s Villa Aurora. Salt Lake City’s Deseret Evening News in February 1904 was one of several American newspapers that ran the same long, illustrated article on the recent successes of the young American Academy in Rome.  “At last, it is put on a footing with the German and French Academies—a long, hard fight”, proclaimed the Utah paper. At that point, the American Academy (founded 1894) was still in rental quarters—but “domiciled in the Casino of the famous Villa Ludovisi”. What is more, the Academy was now “RECOGNIZED BY ROYALTY”, as the Deseret Evening News noted in an all caps subhead to its piece. Indeed, as the paper explains, Italian King Victor Emmanuel III had just viewed the American Academy’s January 1904 public exhibition of the Fellows’ work in architecture, painting and sculpture.

But that’s not the story. What caught the eye of Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi director Corey Brennan was one of the interior photos that accompanied the Deseret Evening News article. It showed the Academy Fellows’ work exhibited in a richly frescoed sala, said to be in the Villa Aurora. But it was a room that he had never seen. [Read more…]

New from 2012: Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts wins “Acquisition of the Year” accolades for colossal ex-Ludovisi ‘Juno’


Christine Kondoleon, the MFA’s George D. and Margo Behrakis Senior Curator of Greek and Roman Art, with the colossal ‘Juno’ (in process of conservation) and a cast of the statue’s head. Photo: Corey Brennan

Talk about hiding in plain sight. A colossal female Roman sculpture with the head of the goddess Juno stood prominently for more than 100 years in the gardens of a famed Italianate estate in Brookline, Massachusetts. Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) managed to purchase it in 2011, after five years of negotiation and careful planning.

In spring 2012 the MFA painstakingly moved the 13 foot tall, seven ton goddess to its George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing for Art of the Ancient World, for permanent installation in the Gallery that also bears the Behrakis name. (An 80 foot crane had to lower the statue through a skylight to get it into the building.) And there the Museum staff has continued the work of consolidation and restoration it had started at the sculpture’s previous site at the Brandegee estate in Brookline. It so happens that the MFA “Juno” is the largest classical marble statue in the United States. [Read more…]

New from 2012: Gaetana Enders highlights the Villa Aurora in Spain’s ARS Magazine


We almost missed this one. The October-December 2012 issue of Madrid-based ARS Magazine highlights the work of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi in preserving and renovating their home, the Casino Aurora—the greatest vestige of the Villa Ludovisi.

The article “El legado Aurora” features an interview with the Prince and Princess and some superior images of the Casino’s interior spaces. These range from the entrance hall, with its vault fresco commemorating Francesco del Nero (1487-1563), treasurer of the Camera Apostolica under Clement VII and father of the first owner of the Casino; the justly famed CaravaggioGiove Nettuno Plutone“, the artist’s sole oil-on-plaster painting; the sitting room with competing landscapes by Bril, Viola, Domenichino and Guercino, and a center piece by Pomarancio (all recently digitally reproduced at a major exhibition in Paris’ Grand Palais and at the Prado); Giovanni Luigi Valesio‘s ceiling with “puttini” glorifying Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1632); and of course the stunning “Aurora” fresco of Guercino, with frame by Agostino Tassi. [Read more…]

New from 1896: Designs to purchase the Casino Aurora (or Palazzo Farnese, or Villa Celimontana) for the new American Academy in Rome

Here comes light on the late 19th century Boncompagni Ludovisi from an unexpected quarter—a new archival collection that has surfaced in Tacoma, Washington. This large cache is particularly rich in correspondence between the Boston lawyer Samuel A.B. Abbott (1846-1931) and his friend the noted architect Charles Follen McKim (1847-1909).


Letter (detail), 18 January 1896, from Samuel A.B. Abbott to Charles F. McKim, listing noble properties then for sale in Rome

Abbott was president of the Board of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library from 1888-1895, and as such brought in the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White to implement his vision of the magnificent Library building (built 1888-1892) that today adorns Copley Square. Walter Muir Whitehill‘s outstanding 1956 institutional history of the Boston Public Library superbly details the relationship of these two men.

A newly-uncovered letter from January 1896—transcribed in full below—finds Abbott in Rome, writing candidly to McKim about the (many) noble palazzi then for sale in the city. McKim at that time was seeking to establish a permanent home for the new “American School of Architecture in Rome“, which he essentially had founded in 1894. As it happened, at that point the Americans were leasing the Villa Aurora from Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi (1832-1911), Prince of Piombino (VIII) from 1883. As this letter reveals, they were then seeking to buy it, but at the lowest possible price. [Read more…]

The 1858 visit of Nathaniel Hawthorne to the Villa Ludovisi, illustrated


The Boncompagni Ludovisi family’s own photographic album (late 1880s-early 1890s) of their sculptural collection. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

In January 1858, after four years of service as US Consul in Liverpool, American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) came to Rome with his wife and three children. He spent almost a year and a half in Italy, into May 1859, with visits to Siena and Florence. In his journals he recorded from what was essentially a tourist’s vantage point many exquisitely detailed impressions of the country and its cultural riches. The chief literary expression of this Italian experience was Hawthorne’s 1860 work The Marble Faun, the last of his four great romances, which he mostly wrote after leaving the Continent for England.

The journals include  Hawthorne’s account of a family visit to the Villa Ludovisi (quoted in full below), on 26 March 1858, some two months after their arrival in Rome. Here one can sense early glimpses of a melancholic view of the Eternal City that soon became much more pronounced after his eldest daughter, Una, then aged about 18, suffered a serious attack of  the notorious strain of malaria known as “Roman fever”.  [Read more…]

New from 1701-1714: Royal letters (including from Louis XIV of France) to Ippolita Ludovisi, Princess of Piombino

PreviewScreenSnapz001A new dossier of sovereigns’ letters to Ippolita Ludovisi, powerful Princess of Piombino. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

Olimpia Ippolita Ludovisi (born in Cagliari 24 December 1663, and died in Rome 29 December 1733) was to be the last member of the Ludovisi family proper. She was the fourth of five children of Niccolò Ludovisi (1613-1664), who acquired the Principate of Piombino in 1634, and his third wife Costanza Pamphili (1627-1665, niece of Pope Innocent X). Ippolita and her siblings thus had two Popes as great-uncles; for their father’s paternal uncle was Alessandro Ludovisi (1554-1623), named as Archbishop of Bologna in 1612, Cardinal in 1616, and then as Pope Gregory XV in 1621. Yet Ippolita hardly was to know her parents. Her father Niccolò died in Sardinia just one day after her first birthday, and her mother Costanza only three months after that, in her ninth month of pregnancy with a posthumously-born (and short-lived) son. [Read more…]

New from 1889: Parting glimpses of the Palazzo Piombino on Rome’s Piazza Colonna

One of the most conspicuous monumental buildings in Rome today is the Galleria Alberto Sordi on the Via del Corso, directly facing the Piazza Colonna on the east. It was the architect Dario Carbone (1857-1934) who designed this as the “Galleria Colonna”. Construction covered the years 1914 to 1922, with final completion coming only after Carbone’s death in 1940.

GalleriaSordiThe Galleria Alberto Sordi on Rome’s Via del Corso, as seen from Piazza Colonna

 What is less noticed is that the two arcades of this 20th century Galleria occupy the spot where the late 16th century Palazzo Piombino stood until its demolition in 1889.

PiazzaColonna1889The Piazza Colonna shortly before the destruction of the Palazzo Piombino (at left) in 1889. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

In this post are gathered some previously unseen Boncompagni Ludovisi family photos of the interior of the Palazzo Piombino just before the Comune di Roma expropriated it and knocked it down. This was part of the city’s long-standing project (envisaged certainly by 1874) to widen the Via del Corso. The photos offer a remarkable glimpse into the private life of this noble family in the late 1880s, at the pinnacle of its fortunes. [Read more…]

New from 1775: Marie Theresa of Austria, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette congratulate Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi on his elevation to Cardinal

One of the most spectacular finds that the Villa Aurora yielded in summer 2010 was a long series of letters by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France. There are 25 in all, written from Versailles over the period 1775-1787. Thirteen are by Louis XVI, and twelve by Marie Antoinette. Each of these newly discovered letters is addressed to Cardinal Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1743-1790), who after 1777 governed Bologna (then in the Papal States) as Cardinal Legate of Pope Pius VI. Boncompagni Ludovisi eventually rose to the position of Secretary of State for the Vatican in 1785, but resigned after just four years, because of poor health.

Google ChromeScreenSnapz008Letter of 1775 from Louis XVI, addressed to Card. Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

The Archivio Segreto Vaticano possesses just one letter from Louis XVI (also to Cardinal Ignazio) and none from Marie Antoinette in its Fond Boncompagni Ludovisi. So this fresh discovery marks a particularly significant contribution to the study of the relationship of European rulers to the Boncompagni Ludovisi family. [Read more…]

The 1644 visit of the English diarist John Evelyn to the Villa Ludovisi

It was Niccolò Ludovisi (1610-1664), younger brother of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, and nephew of Alessandro Ludovisi (= Pope Gregory XV), who acquired for the Ludovisi family the Principality of Piombino (1634) and then the Principality of Venosa (1656). He also obtained high-ranking political positions under Spanish patronage, such as Viceroy of Aragon (since 1660) and of Sardinia (since 1662).

BLNLPiombino copy

Quattrino of Piombino featuring portrait of Prince Niccolò Ludovisi on obverse, arms of Ludovisi on reverse [Read more…]

New from 1578-1581: Further light on the early career of Giacomo Boncompagni, son of Pope Gregory XIII

Ravenna makes Giacomo Boncompagni a citizen and Senator

One of the new archival finds from the Villa Aurora is a magnificently executed declaration of 7 August 1581. It records that Ravenna has granted to Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612, son of Pope Gregory XIII) citizenship and a place in its Senate.


Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome (this and all MS photos below).

The grant is otherwise attested by a document in the Biblioteca Comunale di Bologna (lvi, Cancelleria 34, e. 136 v.°). Giacomo followed up this grant with a grand ceremonial entrance into Ravenna on 7 December 1581. [Read more…]

New from 1552: Ugo Boncompagni (=Pope Gregory XIII) confirms his paternity of son Giacomo


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

One of the most valuable items to emerge from the new archival finds from the Villa Aurora is an autograph declaration in Latin and Italian dated 22 December 1552 by Ugo Boncompagni (1502-1585, from 1572 Pope Gregory XIII). Here Ugo confirms his paternity of Giacomo (or Jacopo) Boncompagni (1548-1612) by Maddalena de’ Fucchinis, a servant in the employ of his sister-in-law Laura Ferro.

The future Pope explains in detail the circumstances of the boy’s conception, which took place in 1547 in Bologna, after the Council of Trent had moved to that city; his motive was to assure his inheritance rights following the death (in 1546) of his father Cristoforo Boncompagni. [Read more…]