Auction of Roman villa with Caravaggio mural fails to attract any bids

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€471m price tag of villa containing only ceiling mural ever painted by Italian master to be reduced by 20%

The sale of a 16th-century villa in Rome containing the only ceiling mural ever painted by the Italian master Caravaggio has been rescheduled and the asking price reduced by 20% after an auction on Tuesday failed to attract any bids.

Villa Aurora was put on the market for €471m (£393m) amid a bitter inheritance dispute between the three sons of the villa’s last owner, the late Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi, and his American-born wife, Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi.

Bidders had to register their offers before midnight on Monday ahead of an online auction on Tuesday afternoon. Beniamino Milioto, a lawyer for the princess, confirmed there were no offers and that the auction had been rescheduled for 7 April with a 20% reduction in price.

Related: The princess and the Caravaggio: bitter dispute rages over Roman villa

Villa Aurora, surrounded by high walls close to the Via Veneto in central Rome, is all that remains of a retreat established by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte in the 16th century. Caravaggio’s Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto mural was commissioned by Del Monte in 1597 to adorn the ceiling of his small alchemy laboratory. The Ludovisis, a noble family with close ties to the papacy, bought the property from Del Monte in 1621.

The lion’s share of the asking price is attributed to the Caravaggio, although the villa also contains ceilings frescoed by the baroque painter Guercino.

Any buyer would also have to stump up a further €11m in restoration costs. In the past, Bill Gates is said to have been interested in acquiring the villa.

Alessandro Zuccari, a history professor at Sapienza University in Rome who oversaw the valuation of the mural, said: “I’m not surprised there were no bids, in fact I would have been amazed if a buyer had come forward. The price is too high. Let’s see what happens in April, but I doubt anyone will come forward then – what would someone like Bill Gates do with Villa Aurora, especially with all the extra costs?”

Since the site is protected by the ministry of culture, once a bid has been agreed at auction the state will have the chance to buy the property at the same price. A petition launched last week urging the government to intervene and stump up the cash was signed by more than 35,000 people.

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