Casino Ludovisi, a delightful treasure in the center of Rome

Caravaggio's Jupiter Neptune Plato circa 1597 ceiling painting in the Casino Ludovisi

When I stroll through the centro storico in Rome, its streets filled with ancient palazzi and their huge wooden doors, I like to think about what’s behind the doors, and who owns and lives in these frescoed buildings. During the day these doors are often open and you can gaze in upon exquisite courtyards with lovely fountains and decorative plants, statues and sculptures. It’s part of the mystery and allure of Rome that keeps you addicted to the city.

I used to have an office at the top of Via Veneto and was constantly walking around the neighborhood to offices, restaurants, shops, coffee bars. This area also hides some treasures behind its high walls and palazzi doors, but as a bustling hotel and business area I don’t think about it as much. I must have walked by, and all around, the Casino Ludovisi hundreds of times without giving it so much as a thought until a week ago when I had the chance to visit the palazzo and its grounds. Behind the high palazzo walls is nestled a treasure I can’t believe I’ve missed these past few decades.

Casino Ludovisi gate entrance

We were offered a fabulous tour of the building, its artwork and some of the amazing documents housed within by the delightful Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, the American wife of Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, present owner of the Casino Ludovisi. What we had the privilege of visiting was the much smaller grounds, and the Villa Ludovisi, that was originally built in 1662 by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi.

The grounds offer their own charm…

Casino Ludovisi pond

with garden sculptures…

Garden sculpture at Casino Ludovisi

I’d met Rita on a number of occasions, mostly at events I had catered, but never saw the exuberant, passionate side of her that emerges when she’s showing visitors her home and its art and treasures. It’s clear that her life’s passion lies with the maintenance and restoration of the Villa Ludovisi and the protection of its artwork and archives. Rita was a charming guide, embellishing the tour with a multitude of stories about all the people who have contributed to the history and mystique of the palazzo, from the artists who worked there on paintings and frescoes, to the regular visitors like Bernini who visited every Saturday to play cards. In 1828 visitor Stendhal declared that the villa’s gardens were some of the most beautiful in the world. Many modern visitors have also visited and admired the villa: Woody Allen, Madonna and world-renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, who was entranced by the friezes in the villa’s enclosed porch.

Casino Ludovisi wall relief in enclosed porch

Each room is filled with fabulous artwork collected over the centuries, yet nearly overshadowed by the frescoed ceilings and walls throughout the palazzo. The ceilings of the Sala dell’Aurora and the Sala del Camino, are decorated with beautiful Guercino frescoes.

Casino Ludovisi hand painted room ceiling

And another room…

Casino Ludovisi hand painted room ceiling, 2.jpg

A closer look at a ceiling frescoe detail…

Casino Ludovisi hand painted room ceiling detail

My favorite by far is the Caravaggio ceiling painting in the tiny alchemist room. The oil paint was applied directly onto the ceiling, an unusual technique for Roman frescoe painting of the day. The foreshortened figures are believed to be Caravaggio self portraits that he probably painted while standing on a mirror. This is the only ceiling painting ever executed by Caravaggio.

Caravaggio's Jupiter Neptune Plato circa 1597 ceiling painting detail in the Casino Ludovisi

I’d have loved to glimpse the private living quarters…the kitchen, bathrooms…but we only just glimpsed this one private room…

Casino Ludovisi peek into private living area

I was so awestruck by the artwork and frescoes that the beautiful hand-painted floor tiles almost went unnoticed…

Hand painted floor tiles Casino Ludovisi

Rita shared that she and her husband are continually unearthing amazing hand-written letters, books and documents. Just six years ago they found letters from Marie Antoinette and King Louis XV and many other documents and record books. She showed us these and many more, some with exquisitely detailed drawings in gorgeous colors, including gold.

Here are some of the most incredible of these that Rita shared with us…

Casino Ludovisi historic letter

Detailed drawings…

Casino Ludovisi handwritten and drawn historic book

Casino Ludovisi handwritten and drawn historic book detail

One of the handwritten, hand drawn and beautifully bound books…

Casino Ludovisi handwritten historic book

And another one…

Casino Ludovisi hand-drawn historic book

A few videos of these historic books…

If you’d like to schedule a visit it’s possible, but by prior appointment only, for fifteen people or more, €20 per person. Enjoy!

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