Did I make a great discovery in the Ludovisi collection of Roman antiquities?
While in Rome at the beginning of November, Corey Brennan (Associate Professor of Classics at Rutgers University), who generously invited me to stay at the American Academy of Rome, brought me to the Casino of the Villa Ludovisi (also known as Villa Aurora) for a private tour of the property, established in the 16th century by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte and later bought by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi. I was very excited to hear about the great work Brennan had done in the Villa with the collaboration of Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi who resides there. I was also of course very excited to get to see the only Caravaggio ceiling ever painted.
Never would have I imagined that I was about to make the discovery (still to be confirmed by experts) of an unnoticed sculptural head of Hadrian’s intended successor Lucius Aelius Caesar. The bust had been universally identified as “Marcus Aurelius” since 1880 (or maybe even 1633). But immediately after entering the Villa, I noticed the bust and thought, “wow, it’s Aelius Caesar!” Then Brennan told me that the bust was supposed to be Marcus Aurelius, and I immediately replied “It’s not Marcus Aurelius”, “I think it’s Lucius Aelius Caesar”.
However, this discovery now requires much study from experts to secure the identification of this Boncompagni Ludovisi bust as that of Lucius Aelius Caesar.
The Sala Aurora of the Casino Aurora, with frescoes by Guercino and Agostino Tassi (1621). The bust in question is in the niche at far left. Photo: David Neal Brennan
By ADBL editor Corey Brennan with Carole Raddato
Picture this. On a bright November 2019 morning, ancient history enthusiast Carole Raddato made her first visit to Rome’s Casino Aurora, to meet with HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi. Raddato was on the lookout for new items to add to her ambitious Following Hadriantravel and photography project, as well as to see the Casino Aurora’s famed Caravaggio ceiling painting ‘Giove, Nettuno e Plutone‘.
No sooner had Raddato entered the vestibule of the Casino Aurora that she spotted, 10 meters away in an oval niche above the principal door of the main sala, a fine bust of a bearded Roman.
“Lucius Aelius Caesar”, she immediately thought.
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