Panel 3: The Villa Ludovisi in Rome: Display and Dispersal of its Collection of Antiquities (1621-2023) 

Organizer: T. Corey Brennan (Rutgers University – New Brunswick) 

The ongoing judicial sale of the 16th century Casino dell’Aurora of the Boncompagni Ludovisi family in Rome—built on the site of the Gardens of Sallust and routinely billed as the “world’s most expensive home”—has sparked massive media attention worldwide, but with a practical response yet to emerge. This panel highlights student work that has created new knowledge about this art-filled landmark and deepened understanding of the cultural significance of its classical connections.

The Casino today sits in central Rome atop a walled enclave of roughly two acres, on ground that once belonged to Julius Caesar, and eventually Rome’s Imperial house. In 1621 a papal nephew, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, bought the Casino and several adjacent properties within the Aurelian Walls to form a “Villa Ludovisi”, for which he amassed a significant collection of antiquities, some found on site. In the 1880s, the Villa’s vast greenspace fell to developers, with just the Casino and part of another palace (now the US Embassy) wholly spared destruction. September 2021 marked another sad inflection point, when an Italian court foreclosed on the Casino, for 400 years the home of the same family. It now has failed to sell at auction five times, with a sixth auction slated for April 2023.

The talks here focus on the historic Villa Ludovisi as museum park, asking: Where did the art come from? How was it displayed? Where is it now?

The Villa Ludovisi and its Ancient Sculpture Gallery
T. Corey Brennan (Rutgers University – New Brunswick) 

SPEAKER 1 examines the Villa Ludovisi as a fixture on the Grand Tour (Benocci 2010), with an emphasis on how visitors experienced its ancient sculptures exhibited in interior spaces. The speaker draws on unpublished archival material (e.g., photographs from ca. 1860), to show precisely why a long line of noted literary and artistic figures from the 17th through 19th centuries found their viewing of the Ludovisi marbles simultaneously exhilarating and disappointing.

The Boncompagni Ludovisi Collection of Gems
Jacqueline Giz (Rutgers University – New Brunswick) 

SPEAKER 2 discusses the complicated dispersal in the late nineteenth century of ancient gems in the Boncompagni Ludovisi collection (La Monica 2002), and how the speaker’s team has developed a new provenance database for these objects, scalable to all artistic media. More particularly, the talk traces the history of an amethyst intaglio portrait of “Antisthenes”, a veristic portrait of a man holding his hand to his chin, to contribute a novel line of dispersion involving the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, and more generally to underline the fragile nature of modern attributions. To return this piece to its ancient context, the speaker analyses the gesture on the intaglio, offering this framework (Corbeill 2004) as a step towards removing modern bias from our understanding of such portraits.

Ancient Inscriptions in the Villa Ludovisi
Emilie Puja (Rutgers University – New Brunswick) 

SPEAKER 3 sketches for the first time the development, display and dispersal of Roman-era inscriptions in the Villa Ludovisi (CIL VI, 1876-94), now quite scattered or lost (Palma 1986). The speaker identifies type, material, text and often provenance for at least 44 Greek and Latin inscriptions (largely funerary texts), and shows that more than half that total came to the collection when an adjoining estate was annexed in 1851. Analysis shows that the family seems to have consciously acquired inscribed pieces (e.g., altars and sarcophagi) mostly as art objects, though there is evidence that it valued some inscriptions for their own sake.

Sculptures in the Villa Ludovisi Gardens: The Case of “Pan”
Hatice Koroglu Cam (Temple University)

SPEAKER 4 discusses the sculptures shown in the Villa’s gardens, with close attention to an essentially unstudied life-size Pan sculpture (Palma 1986) that first (before ca. 1770) was thought to be ancient, then for a time (ca. 1770-1880) was generally identified as the work of Michelangelo. Following personal examination of the sculpture in its current unprotected position outside the Casino dell’Aurora, the speaker argues that this now-ignored Pan in fact is likely to be this artist’s work, indeed a satiric self-portrait. The talk highlights numerous stylistic correspondences between Michelangelo’s works of art and this sculpture, as well as unnoticed evidence on its display history.

What next for the Casino and its still-considerable collection of antiquities? Whether the home passes to another private owner, or to the Italian state, or to a public / private partnership, it is likely that the public will not be gaining access for some time to come, which makes this panel’s stock-taking all the more timely and essential.


The Villa Ludovisi and its ancient sculpture gallery

Benocci, C. 2010. Villa Ludovisi. Rome: Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Libreria dello Stato.

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

Felici, G. 1952. Villa Ludovisi in Roma. Roma: Sansaini.

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

Schreiber, T. 1880. Die antiken Bildwerke der Villa Ludovisi in Rom. Leipzig: W. Engelmann.

The Boncompagni Ludovisi collection of gems

Corbeill, Anthony. 2004. Nature Embodied: Gesture in Ancient Rome. Princeton, N.J.; Princeton University Press.

Jaffé, David. 1993. “Aspects of Gem Collecting in the Early Seventeenth Century, Nicolas-Claude Peiresc and Lelio Pasqualini.” The Burlington Magazine 135 (1079): 103–20.

La Monica, Denise. 2002. “Progressi Verso La ‘Dactyliotheca Ludovisiana.’” Annali Della Scuola Normale Superiore Di Pisa. Classe Di Lettere e Filosofia 7 (1): 35–84.

Venditti, G. et al. (ed.) 2008. Archivio Boncompagni Ludovisi: inventario. 5 vols. Vatican City: Archivio segreto vaticano.

Ancient inscriptions in the Villa Ludovisi

Brunori, V. “The Horti Sallustiani and Villa Ludovisi-location site of the cryptoporticus. Historical and topographical notes.” In O. Brandt (ed.), Unexpected Voices: The Graffiti in the Cryptoporticus of the Horti Sallustiani, 11-33. Stockholm: Paul Astroms Forlag, 2008.

Hartswick, K. J. 2004. The Gardens of Sallust: a changing landscape. Austin: University of Texas Press.

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

Palma, B. and L. de Lachenal (edd.). 1984. Museo Nazionale Romano. Le Sculture. 1.5 I Marmi Ludovisi nel Museo Nazionale Romano. Milan: De Luca Editore.

Schiavo, A. 1981. Villa Ludovisi and Palazzo Margherita. Rome: Editrice Roma Amor.

Sculptures in the Villa Ludovisi gardens: the case of ‘Pan’

Fea, C. 1822. Descrizione di Roma e de’ contorni, vol. II. Rome: C. Puccinelli.

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

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

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

Sebastiani, P. 1683.Viaggio curioso de’ palazzi, e ville più notabili di Roma. Rome: Il Moneta.