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World’s priciest home: The vendor is a Princess who posed for Playboy and the decor is Michelangelo

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For sale: an imposing 16th-century villa in one of Rome’s poshest neighbourhoods covering more than 30,000 sq ft over six floors, plus two acres of formal gardens.

This stunning property — a former hunting lodge on a hilltop site once occupied by Julius Caesar’s palace — has what estate agents might call bags of potential.

But it is also in need of serious renovation: the basic cost of sorting it out is estimated at 11 million euros (£9.3 million).

One thing the lucky buyer certainly won’t be doing, however, is getting decorators in to re-paint the ceilings.

For Villa Aurora happens to boast the only surviving ceiling fresco by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi (Middle) decided to appear in Playboy magazine, posing in a feather boa in a photoshoot to accompany an article that she’d written, headlined The Liberation of a Congressional Wife

Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi (Middle) decided to appear in Playboy magazine, posing in a feather boa in a photoshoot to accompany an article that she’d written, headlined The Liberation of a Congressional Wife

Wedding photo of Princess Rita (Right) and Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi (Left) at Villa Aurora

Wedding photo of Princess Rita (Right) and Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi (Left) at Villa Aurora

Princess Rita (Pictured) in the 16th-century villa, which is located in one of Rome's poshest neighbourhoods. It has been valued by independent experts at 310 million euros (£262 million)

Princess Rita (Pictured) in the 16th-century villa, which is located in one of Rome’s poshest neighbourhoods. It has been valued by independent experts at 310 million euros (£262 million)

Tucked away in a small room on the second floor, Jupiter, Neptune And Pluto was completed by the Baroque artist in 1597 at the behest of the property’s then owner, a cardinal who wanted to jazz up a small room he had decided to use as an alchemy laboratory.

The stunning picture, measuring 10 ft across, shows the three Olympian gods with their characteristic elements: air and sulphur for Jupiter, water and mercury for Neptune, plus earth and salt for Pluto.

At some stage, it was covered up, only to be rediscovered under peeling paint in the 1960s by an art historian named Giuliana Zandri. He concluded that it contained self-portraits: Caravaggio had used his own face as a model for each deity.

Tradition dictates that such unique and historic masterpieces are described as ‘priceless’. But in this particular case, the fresco has a price: it has been valued by independent experts at 310 million euros (£262 million).

That in turn is the main reason bidding will start at 471 million euros (£399 million) when Villa Aurora goes under the hammer in January. Should it sell, that would make it the most expensive home ever, eclipsing a Hong Kong residence covering 51,000 sq ft, which changed hands for around £261 million in 2017.

‘Let’s just say you are buying a Caravaggio with a house thrown in,’ is how the current owner, Her Serene Highness the Principessa Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, puts it.

This stunning property — a former hunting lodge on a hilltop site once occupied by Julius Caesar’s palace — has what estate agents might call bags of potential (Pictured)

This stunning property — a former hunting lodge on a hilltop site once occupied by Julius Caesar’s palace — has what estate agents might call bags of potential (Pictured)

The property — which dates back to 1570 — also contains a statue of Pan attributed to Michelangelo on its gravel drive, while the entrance hall is dominated by a huge ceiling painting by Guercino, another baroque artist.

There is a Roman bust of Augustus on a staircase and marble columns with inlaid pearl throughout.

Its art collection was assembled by the Ludovisi family, aristocratic descendants of Pope Gregory XV, who purchased the pile in 1620 and have held on to it ever since.

They are being forced to sell up owing to an inheritance dispute that dates back to the death in 2018 of the 71-year-old Principessa’s husband, Prince Nicolo Boncompagni Ludovisi.

The late aristocrat had three sons — Francesco, Ignazio, and Bante — from the first of his three marriages.

The property's art collection was assembled by the Ludovisi family (Pictured), aristocratic descendants of Pope Gregory XV, who purchased the pile in 1620 and have held on to it ever since

The property’s art collection was assembled by the Ludovisi family (Pictured), aristocratic descendants of Pope Gregory XV, who purchased the pile in 1620 and have held on to it ever since

They have spent years battling their stepmother, Principessa Rita, over the fate of the property. Things concluded with a ruling that Villa Aurora should be sold at auction. She will get half the proceeds.

‘I wanted this house to become a museum, but I am tired of going to court, and the court was fed up with the suing so has ordered the house to be sold. It’s heartbreaking,’ she said this week, adding that her late husband had always resisted selling, despite offers from Bill Gates and an Arab sheikh. ‘To think of this house falling into the wrong hands devastates me.’

Asked how many rooms the villa has, she added: ‘Nicolo used to say, “We don’t count our rooms.” It’s at least 50.’

This isn’t the first time Principessa Rita’s family life has made headlines.

Born plain Rita Carpenter, in Texas, she was educated at Harvard and spent much of the 1970s in Washington DC as the wife of John Jenrette, a Democratic congressman from South Carolina.Their marriage hit the buffers in 1980, when he was convicted of accepting a $50,000 bribe, in what became known as the ‘Abscam scandal’.

She subsequently decided to appear in Playboy magazine, posing in a feather boa in a photoshoot to accompany an article that she’d written, headlined The Liberation of a Congressional Wife.

Tucked away in a small room on the second floor, Jupiter, Neptune And Pluto (Pictured) was completed by the Baroque artist in 1597 at the behest of the property’s then owner, a cardinal

Tucked away in a small room on the second floor, Jupiter, Neptune And Pluto (Pictured) was completed by the Baroque artist in 1597 at the behest of the property’s then owner, a cardinal 

In it, she accused her former spouse of serious infidelity and claimed that once, during a break from an all-night session of Congress, she and Jenrette had ‘made love on the marble steps that overlook the monuments’ in front of the U.S. Capitol.

The revelation made global headlines, and an autobiography, My Capitol Secrets, came out later that year. It was billed as the true story of ‘the lady who blew the lid off Washington.’

Inside, she detailed ‘the endless parties, drop-your-clothes-at-the-door orgies, alcoholic bashes, the cocaine, the call girls — and call boys’ she had encountered during her time in politics. Naturally, the book became a bestseller.

Rita next moved to Los Angeles to capitalise on her notoriety by pursuing a Hollywood career.

She appeared on, among other things, an episode of the TV drama Fantasy Island as a character called Nurse Heavenly, and in a film entitled Zombie Island Massacre. After the acting jobs dried up, she moved to New York to try her hand as a TV news reporter.

Later, during the 1990s, she became an estate agent. Her biggest deal involved the 1998 sale of the General Motors Building to Donald Trump, who promptly installed his name in 4 ft-high gold letters above the front door.

Rita’s life changed once again in 2003, when she was telephoned out of the blue and asked to work as broker on a potential development deal involving Prince Nicolo. ‘They called me and said, “We have this prince who would like to develop a hotel on his property,” ’ she later told the New Yorker magazine.

‘I said, “Oh, for heaven’s sakes! Everybody in New York calls themselves count or prince or whatever — they’re not.” ’

The property — which dates back to 1570 — also contains a statue of Pan attributed to Michelangelo on its gravel drive, while the entrance hall is dominated by a huge ceiling painting by Guercino, another baroque artist (Pictured)

The property — which dates back to 1570 — also contains a statue of Pan attributed to Michelangelo on its gravel drive, while the entrance hall is dominated by a huge ceiling painting by Guercino, another baroque artist (Pictured)

Eventually, she agreed to go to Rome and soon realised that her client was the real deal. The Prince, for his part, fell in love at first sight.

‘It was probably written in the stars,’ he later recalled. ‘I said, in the clumsiest way one can even imagine, “Well, you are not ugly.” She’s beautiful, of course, but she’s as beautiful inside. She’s candid like a child but shrewd like a fox!’

The couple (who married in 2009) spent around £10 million preserving their property, and each month would invite visitors on paid tours of the home and gardens, which would culminate in their being invited for tea.

Their 15-year relationship was, however, the cause of friction with his sons that appears never to have been resolved. ‘When they were small, you would’ve eaten them up,’ the Prince once told an interviewer, regarding his three boys. ‘When they grew up, you sort of regret that you didn’t.’

Now, it is, of course, ending with the sale of the historic family seat.

‘I hope whoever buys this house loves it as much as I have,’ Principessa Rita said this week.

Her best chance of preventing Villa Aurora falling into the hands of a free-spending oligarch, Arab sheikh or flashy vulgarian is for the Italian government — which will conduct the sale on January 18 — to decide to buy it.

It can do that thanks to a preservation order, which gives the State the option to buy historic properties and artworks, provided they can match the closing bid.

‘It’s an extraordinary work, which was difficult to put a price on, seeing as it was the only mural ever done by Caravaggio, and so we had nothing to compare it to,’ says Alessandro Zuccari, a history professor at Sapienza University in Rome, who oversaw the valuation of the mural on behalf of the authorities.

‘It’s a place that’s unique in the world . . . The state will have the right to buy it; the problem will be whether it can pay such a high price.’

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‘After divorce, I’ve fallen in love. But something is holding me back’

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Question: I’m a divorced man, and I think I’ve fallen in love. This woman I care about so much brought me back to life after my divorce woes and I feel happy when we’re together. My life would certainly change if the relationship progressed and I feel the need to hit the brakes. Is it fear holding me back? Some advice would be great.

Answer: I think it is great that you are able to identify fear as the block to your relationship and it is worth looking at this. You have had a divorce, so your experience of relationship breakup is real and is clearly causing you to pause before heading into a committed relationship again. Some areas worth checking are your capacity for self-awareness, your relationship patterns and habits and your history of decision making.

Looking at self-awareness first – are you conscious of what motivates your actions and speech? In terms of self-awareness, there are many aspects of our ourselves which we are aware of, but we do need help with uncovering the full picture. For example, we can often see that someone we live or work with is stressed but they themselves would not know or acknowledge this and think that they are operating from a calm and collected place. It might be worth you checking with friends what they see in your new relationship and how they see you behaving. Do you seem happier to them, or is there wariness or caution in your approach to your partner? Your friends or family will be able to evaluate your wellness (or not) without the emotion or fear that you may have operating.

Ask for some honest opinions and remember if you ask for advice, take it on board as they may have more objectivity than you do. We all have relationship patterns and habits, so it is worth looking at yours to see if this is influencing your current impasse. These patterns typically start with our family of origin. For example, if there were difficulties (silences, anger, distances, or lack trust and love) in your parents’ relationship it is likely that you have a capacity to put up with or repeat such patterns in your own relationships.

Send your query anonymously to Trish Murphy

It helps to talk it over with someone you trust, so that you can hear the emotion that is going on in your voice and then act to disperse it

It sounds as though you are mistrusting of someone who has “brought you back to life” and it is worth looking at whether this caution is coming from your own past experience or from fear of getting into a relationship pattern similar to your parents’ one. It takes courage to challenge our patterns and the nature of habit is that it operates outside of conscious thinking, so we can respond without even knowing where we are coming from, eg we push someone away just as intimacy is growing. Behaviour such as this could derive from a generational fear of rejection, or a fear of closeness, or of being discovered as not what we seem to be. It is good to explore such habits as we can struggle to see them operating and they can operate as a huge block in our lives.

It is true that the “in-love” feeling can sometimes mask some of the adored person’s characteristics and this is why we always need the “head” as well as the “heart” when making decisions. What is your decision-making like normally? Do you have enough knowledge of this person to make a decision about joining your lives together? Have you spent enough time with them and their circle of friends to make an informed choice? Sometimes the feeling of intense connection at the beginning of a relationship can make us lose sight of the fact that we don’t know the other person very well and in these situations we would do well to slow it down and let our judgement work when the time is right. If you are happy that you have enough knowledge and information to make this decision, then you are probably right that it is fear that is stopping you moving forward.

A little fear is natural and can even help us, for example we drive under the speed limit oftentimes out of fear of getting a speeding ticket. However too much fear can be debilitating, and it can completely bock our intelligence. All relationships involve risk, in that we have to trust that someone else will value us and not reject us. Fear is such a powerful emotion it can cover other more rational and sane judgements and so we need to ensure that we are not just operating from that place.

It helps to talk it over with someone you trust, so that you can hear the emotion that is going on in your voice and then act to disperse it. However, it is worth knowing that fear and panic are closely aligned so we need to tackle them slowly and incrementally or else we go into a kind of frozenness. Overcome small fears first – this might involve speaking with some honesty with your partner – and gradually build up to the bigger fears. Your confidence and self-awareness will grow along the way and this can only benefit you. 

Click here to send your question to Trish or email tellmeaboutit@irishtimes.com

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Lighthouse workers end up with front-row seats for Storm Barra

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Four lighthouse workers who went to Fastnet Lighthouse in west Cork to carry out maintenance on Friday ended up having front-row seats for Storm Barra as they had to stay onsite due to the conditions.

The lighthouse recorded a wind gust of 159km/h on Tuesday morning but Irish Lights electronic engineer Paul Barron said that it was a safe place to be as the country battened down the hatches to face the storm.

Mr Barron and his colleagues Ronnie O’Driscoll, Dave Purdy and Malcolm Gillies made the journey to Fastnet on Friday to do maintenance work and were due back on Tuesday but their helicopter flight was cancelled because of the storm. They hope to arrive back on the mainland on Thursday.

Mr Barron said they are passing their time onsite by watching Netflix and having a few steaks and rashers. He admitted it was a day to remember on the lighthouse which is 54 metres above the sea.

“There is a team of four of us out here. It has been quite a rough day. We started off this morning at around 2am and by 10am or 11am we were in the eye of the storm. I was in the merchant Navy before as a radio officer so I have seen a lot of bad weather. I am with Irish Lights 32 years but I haven’t normally seen it like this. We wouldn’t normally be out in this. You are talking 9m swells with winds gusting up to 90 knots.”

He captured some footage of the storm on his phone. During the worst of the weather the men found it hard to hear each other as it was so noisy during the squalls.

The tower was “shuddering a bit” but Mr Barron managed to shoot video footage which attracted attention online and even a call from Sky News.

He says the lighthouse has kitchen facilities and they always bring additional food in case of emergency.

“It could be a fine summer’s day and there could be thick fog and the chopper wouldn’t take off so we always bring extra food. We are passing the time by watching Netflix! This is a good place to be in the eye of a storm. This lighthouse has been built a hundred years so it has seen a lot of storms.”

As for families being concerned about the men Mr Barron jokes that their loved ones are probably relieved they aren’t at home hogging the remote control.

Meanwhile, in Cork city centre the river Lee spilled on to quays and roads on Tuesday morning but no major damage to property was caused. Debris and falling trees kept local authority crews busy and power outages were reported in a number of areas across the county.

At least 23 properties were flooded in Bantry in west Cork. The council had placed sandbags along the quay wall and the fire brigade had six manned pumps around the town.

In north Cork, a lorry driver had a lucky escape in Fermoy when his vehicle overturned on the motorway during the high winds. Traffic diversions were put in place following the incident.

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Top tips on how to avoid a large energy bill this winter

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Five easy tips and five things to avoid to get the most from your heating this winter – and dodge a big energy bill

  • We reveal some simple steps to lowering your heating bills this winter 
  • Tips include tucking curtains in behind your radiators to stop heat escaping










Rising energy bills mean the cost of keeping warm is an issue for many households this winter.

But there are some simple steps that can be taken to reduce your energy bill without compromising on keeping cosy.

We take a look at 10 top tips for saving money on your heating, which include things to do and things to avoid doing. 

These include tucking curtains in behind your radiators to stop heat escaping, while not putting clothes on the radiators to dry, as this will block the heat from dispersing through the room.

We provide a list of little fixes that will help to keep your energy bills low this winter

We provide a list of little fixes that will help to keep your energy bills low this winter

John Lawless, of designer radiator company BestHeating, said: ‘Winter weather always sparks the debate around leaving your heating on low all-day versus a couple of hours a day. 

‘Sure, your boiler will have to work a little harder to heat up a cold home when you first switch it on but having it on constantly will use more energy than just switching it on when you need it.

‘The best thing to do to lower bills and keep warm is to insulate your home, prevent draughts, and set up better heating controls. Don’t have the heating on full whack in a room you don’t use, just heat the room you spend the most time in.

‘Our advice is to heat smarter. You can’t control the weather but you can control your heating and how your home loses that heat.’

NetVoucherCodes.co.uk agrees, saying: ‘Saving energy can help you be more energy-efficient and considerate of the environment, but it’s also a great way to save money.’

Here are the top ten tips…

The things you can do

1. Use thick curtains

Having thicker curtains helps reduce the amount of colder air coming in, while also helping to reduce the amount of hot air escaping.

The thicker the material, the more heat will be contained. Also tuck your curtains behind your radiator to stop even more heat escaping.

INSULATING PIPES 

Pipes can be insulated by covering them with a foam tube. 

This includes the pipes between a hot water cyclinder and a boiler. 

That will reduce the amount of heat lost and keep your water hot for longer. 

It is as simple as choosing the correct size from a DIY store and then slipping it around the pipes.

2. Cover up exposed pipes

Exposed pipes allow for heat to escape easily. Try covering them in an insulating material to maximise their efficiency.

3. Only heat the rooms you spend most time in

Heating rooms in your home that you don’t spend much time in will not only be a waste of energy, but also a waste of your money.

4. Cover up draughts

You can lose a lot of heat from gaps in your doors and window frames. Make sure you fill in these gaps with a draught proof material, such as draught-proof strips or even just a thick cloth for a quick solution.

5. Turn your thermostat down by one degree celsius

Experts have proven that reducing the temperature of your home by one degree celsius saves you up to £80 a year.

Drying clothes on your radiator will block the heat from dispersing through the room

Drying clothes on your radiator will block the heat from dispersing through the room

Things to avoid

1. Dry your clothes on the radiator

Drying clothes on your radiator will block the heat from dispersing through the room and will have to be left on much longer to have the same effect without a blockage.

2. Keep the heating on all day

Your home will take longer to heat up if you keep turning it on and off, but it will save you more money by putting your heating on a timer for a few hours a day. Try setting a timer on your boiler, so it only turns on for a few hours a day.

3. Allow your radiators to get dirty

If you notice any cold spots at the bottom of your radiators when the heating is on full this could mean you have a build-up of sludge in the system.

This stops the hot water circulating properly, stopping your radiators from getting hot enough when you need the heating the most. Give your radiators a good clean to make sure you aren’t wasting money on heating.

4. Turn your thermostat above 18 degrees Celsius

Research shows that the average thermostat setting in Britain is 20.8 degrees celsius. However, experts have stated that 18 degrees celsius is warm enough for a healthy and well dressed person to remain comfortable during winter. This will be controversial suggestiong for many, for whom 18 degrees might feel a bit chilly – and how you feel at 18 degree central heating will depend on how well your home is insulated.

5. Don’t place large furniture in front of your radiator

Blocking your radiator with furniture, such as sofa or a table, will stop the flow of warm air. This blockage will cause your boiler to work harder to heat your home, resulting in expensive heating bills.

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