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Auction for Roman villa containing Caravaggio mural draws no bidders

Auction for Roman villa containing Caravaggio mural draws no bidders
An auction for a Roman villa featuring a ceiling mural by Italian painter Caravaggio that is at the center of an inheritance dispute was rescheduled after failing to receive any bidders. File Photo by Riccardo Antimiani/EPA-EFE

Jan. 18 (UPI) -- An auction for a 16th-century Roman villa containing the only ceiling mural by Italian painter Caravaggio was rescheduled after failing to attract any bids on Tuesday.

Villa Aurora was put up for auction with a starting price of $533 million but no bidders registered their offers before the deadline at midnight on Monday so the auction was pushed to April 7 and the price was reduced by 20%, Beniamo Mioloto, a lawyer for the villa's current occupant, confirmed to The Guardian.

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The villa was at the center of an inheritance dispute between Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi -- the American-born widow of the villa's late owner Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi -- and her three stepsons.

Prior to her husband's death, the princess was credited with restoring the property, which was once made inaccessible to visitors by chest-high weeds, enabling scholars to search the grounds, which resulted in several historically important discoveries, including a chest stuffed with letters of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.

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"It was really a journey of love," the princess said. "Basically, we sacrificed everything, my husband and I did, for this house and for his family."

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Following the prince's death in 2017, a lien was placed on the property and his sons from a previous marriage contested their father's will, which the princess said left her 50% of the villa's value and the right to use it for life.

An Italian court ruled in September that the villa would be auctioned off.

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Much of the villa's asking price has been attributed to the Caravaggio but other ceilings in the villa were also frescoed by the baroque painter Guercino.

A prospective buyer would also be required to pay about $12 million in repairs.

The site is protected by the ministry of culture and once a bid has been agreed upon at the auction the state will have the opportunity to buy the property at the same price.

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More than 35,000 people signed a petition last week urging the government to purchase the villa.

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