Casino Ludovisi – a cardinal’s idyll on the outskirts of the city

Casino Ludovisi, artificial rocks in the landscape park surrounding the palace

Casino Ludovisi, artificial rocks in the landscape park surrounding the palace

In this place, densely filled with representative buildings and hotels, there was once an imposing garden and park complex, covering 19 square kilometers, with flowerbeds, gardens, walking avenues, among which stood ancient statues, fountains and nymphaeums.

Casino Ludovisi, artificial rocks in the landscape park surrounding the palace
Casino Ludovisi, gate leading into the palace from via Lombardia
Casino Ludovisi, view of the garden façade
Casino Ludovisi, vestibule with grotesque paintings leading into the building’s main hall
Casino Ludovisi, room with a painting by Caravaggio
Casino Ludovisi, painting by Caravaggio, representation of Neptune and Pluto, fragment
Casino Ludovisi, Sala dell’Aurora with painting by Guercino
Casino Ludovisi, Guercino, Aurora
Casino Ludovisi, fireplace room (Stanza del Caminetto)
Casino Ludovisi, fireplace room (Stanza del Caminetto), ceiling painting , XVII century
Casino Ludovisi, ceiling of the old library Giovanni L. Valesio
Casino Ludovisi, ceiling painting, XVII century, Giovanni L. Valesio
Casino Ludovisi, dining room with rococo decorations of the ceiling
Casino Ludovisi, piano nobile, the room of Fame
Casino Ludovisi, piano nobile – the room of Fame (Sala della Fama)
Casino Ludovisi, the Boncompagni-Ludovisi coat of arms, palace vestibule
View of the Casino and the surrounding par from the terrace of a nearby hotel
Casino Ludovisi, garden façade
Casino Ludovisi, view from the garden
Casino Ludovisi, one of the sculptures in front of the main enterance
Casino Ludovisi, decorations of the ceiling of the vestibule leading to the building’s main hall, fragment
Casino Ludovisi, fireplace room (Stanza del Caminetto)
Casino Ludovisi,fireplace room (Stanza del Caminetto), ceiling painting, XVII century
Casino Ludovisi, gazebo with antique reliefs embedded into the wall
Casino Ludovisi, the room of Fame (della Fama) – central part of the painting showing the personification of Fame
Casino Ludovisi, dragon embedded into the wall in the park – the heraldic creature of the Boncompagni family
Casino Ludovisi, Caravaggio’s painting, the image of Jupiter, fragment
Casino Ludovisi, interior of the then alchemical study of cardinal del Monte
Casino Ludovisi, Stanza del Caminetto, Guercino, ceiling painting
Casino Ludovisi, Stanza del Caminetto, ceiling painting, Domenichino, fragment
Casino Ludovisi, Stanza del Caminetto, ceiling painting, Giovanni B. Viola
Casino Ludovisi, painting by Giovanni L. Valesio, central part of the ceiling of the old library
Casino Ludovisi, ceiling decorations in the dining room
Casino Ludovisi, ceiling painting – Fame accompanied by the personifications of Honor and Virtue
Casino Ludovisi, view in the XVII century, drawing – Giuseppe Vasi

In this place, densely filled with representative buildings and hotels, there was once an imposing garden and park complex, covering 19 square kilometers, with flowerbeds, gardens, walking avenues, among which stood ancient statues, fountains and nymphaeums.


It was created between two city gates: Porta Pinciana and Porta Salaria. This area located in the north of Rome, was purchased at the beginning of the XVII century by the nephew of Pope Gregory XV, one of the most influential figures of that time, Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who created a true suburban residence here. He was a great collector of antique and contemporary art. His collection originally contained The Rape of Proserpina (Gian Lorenzo Bernini), as well as 450 pieces of antique art, including the famous head of Juno or the sarcophagus known as Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus, which as late as the XIX century still attracted writers and painters to this place, who could not stop admiring the beauty of these sculptures. Similar admiration was enjoyed by the park and garden created by the French landscape architect André Le Nôtre. When describing a walk in the park in 1828 Stendhal claimed that it is one of the most beautiful places in Europe.

Out of the whole complex which originally consisted of Palazzo Grande (the large palace, Casino Caponi (casino meaning villa in Italian), with the cardinal’s antique works of art, as well as the representative small palace known as Casino dell’Aurora (not to be confused with the building with the same name created by Cardinal Scipione Borghese on the Quirinal Hill – Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi), only the last one survived until the present day. In its original form the building was based on the plan of a Greek cross, with a central salon and four rooms in the arms. A spiral staircase led to the first floor which was topped off by a square tower. In later times this building was further extended.

It is worth mentioning that the small palace previously belonged to another cardinal – Francesco Maria del Monte, who at the end of the XVI century created a veritable intellectual and artistic salon here. It also contained an alchemical study as well as a small room, which according to the cardinal’s wishes was decorated by Caravaggio. The ceiling depicts three gods – Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto in backbreaking poses and dramatic perspective foreshortenings, as personifications of Air (eagle), Water (hippocampus) and Earth (three-headed dog Cerberus), who are given the appropriate elements – sulphur (Jupiter), mercury (Neptune) and salt (Pluto). In the center of the paiting there is a crystal sphere with the signs of the zodiac and two smaller spheres. Some researchers see the images of the painter himself in the faces of two of the three gods, Pluto and Neptune. It is also hard not to notice, that the attention of the onlookers is directed to the heavily exposed genitalia of Pluto. The painting was not completed in the technique of the fresco, but in a technique which is easier to work with but less durable, oils directly on the plaster. In creating the compositions Caravaggio also proved (although not conclusively) to his fellow painters, who accused him of not knowing the rules of perspective, that the method of paiting of fashionable at that time ceiling decorations is not unfamiliar to him, although… is not his strong suit either. We must not forget, that it is a very small, really an intimate work, as it is only 3 meters long and 180 centimeters wide. It was not discovered anew until 1990.


When cardinal del Monte sold the building to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, the latter expanded it and in 1622 ordered to have the interior covered with paintings. Among them, the one that enjoyed the most fame even at the time of its creation was the illusionist plafond Aurora. Its creators were two artists who cooperated with each other Guercino and Agostino Tassi; the latter was responsible for the so-called quadrature, meaning the ideally sketched perspective, providing an illusion of a never-ending architectural entablature and its opening onto vast area of the sky, on which Aurora’s horse-drawn chariot moves forward.   Guercino deliberately responds to a fresco of the same theme (its author was Guido Reni) from the aforementioned Casino dell’Aurora – the villa of Scipione Borghese, built a mere ten years prior. The rivalry in this way can be transferred to the competition between both the cardinals – Borghese and Ludovisi - the greatest collectors and owners of the best collections of art in Rome at that time.

Other rooms on the ground floor were decorated by Guercino, but also by Domenichino. Right next to the representative salon, known as the salon dell’Aurora thanks to the painting found there, we find Stanza del Caminetto (the Fireplace Room). Four artists competed within, for the creation of the most beautiful landscape: the aforementioned Guercino and Domenichino, as well as Paolo Bril and Giovanni Battista Viola. Their efforts can be seen on the ceiling, where among the images of the atlantes, subtle landscapes appear. This room opens out onto a gazeebo, of which antique reliefs are the main decoration.  In another part of the ground floor there once was a library. Its ceiling is decorated by groups of putti holding up a band with the surname, coat of arms (three diagonal bands) and titles of cardinal Ludovisi. It was painted by a little-known XVII-century painter Giovanni Luigi Valesio.  Today this salon presents the family portraits and leads to another, this time the dining room. It is decorated with later, XVIII century stuccos and small paintings with genre and landscape themes in decorative frames.

Climbing the circular staircase up, we are once again confronted with the works of Guercino. This time it is another illusionist painting, of which the subject is connected with the allegory of Fame. We can see her in the central part of the composition, opening onto the vastness of the sky.  In her hand she holds a trumpet and an olive branch. At her feet there are other allegoric figures: Honos – the personification of honor and chivalry as well as Virtus – the personification of virtue. Both of them seem to be sending a messenger carrying a crown to Fame. Of course all these allegories symbolize the spiritual attributes relating to the owner of the building and his family – cardinal Ludovisi. In his time the Casino was dedicated to social meetings, mainly of the College of Cardinals. In later times, according to reports of XVIII-century witnesses, there was an imposing bed inside, incrusted with precious stones among them diamonds, rubies, pearls, and lapis lazuli linings. Right next to this representative room, there is a tiny room, which was described earlier, in which Caravaggio created the ceiling decoration.


After the death of his uncle and the election to the papal throne of Urban VIII Cardinal Ludovisi spent less and less time in Rome, while his relations with the new pope and his family were tense. In 1632 he was actually forced to depart for Bologna, where he quickly died.  He was, however, buried in the Jesuit Church of Sant’Ignazio in Rome, next to his uncle – Gregory XV. The Ludovisi villa was inhabited by subsequent descendants of the cardinal, until the marriage of the last of them Ippolita Ludovisi. After that the villa came into the hands of the Boncompagni-Ludovisi line. The decades-long judicial process between the family and the Jesuits who claimed legal rights to the buildings finished in the year 1700. Then, in exchange for among others the aforementioned bed, the friars renounced their claims. The buildings were left uninhabited, while the garden was neglected until the 20’s of the XIX century, when parties were organized here, while the buildings were opened to visitors and the collections were made available to famous guests – Gogol, Goethe, Stendhal, Taine and Henry James all resided here. In the following years more land was purchased so that finally the park stretched out to 30 square kilometers. This did not last long, however. In 1872 the residence was first rented by the Italian king Victor Emanuel II, who came to live here with his lover, then his second wife.  However, 14 years later the owner decided to sell the valuable land to a state-owned company, which put up exclusive tenement houses, hotels and other commercial buildings there. The garden was parceled out, while the original buildings were torn down. At the same time the imposing via Vittorio Veneto was created, while the park arrangements were decreased to the area around the remaining Casino. Palazzo Grande was integrated with the newly built in 1890 Palazzo Margherita, intended for Rodolfo Boncompagni-Ludovisi, the Duke of Piombino, who in turn sold it to the Italian state. After the assassination of King Umberto I, the queen-widow, Margherita of Savoy (Margherita), who was well-liked by Romans, lived here until her death in 1926. Presently the palace houses the embassy of the United States.

In 1901 a large part of the collection of Roman art which belonged to the family (collection Ludovisi,) was also sold. It was purchased by the Italian government and today can be seen at the Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Altemps.

The building is still today inhabited by the Boncompagni-Ludovisi family and is made available to visitors. A visit can be arranged for groups (up to 15 people), or individually with prior reservation. The entrance fee is not cheap however – equaling 300 euro (regardless of the fact whether the residence is visited by 15 people or just one).