On to be a princess — or for that matter, a prince — living a 20th-century fairytale life in a palazzo in Rome, surrounded by beautiful things, throwing marvellous parties, mixing with glamorous film stars... Richard Burton, Grace Kelly.
That has been the story for Princess Ismene Chigi Della Rovere, who met her second husband and love of her life, the prince, on a park bench. Some people have all the luck. Now aged 87, the princess is streamlining, so we can buy a bit of her fabulous lifestyle.
Born lucky, as Countess Ismene Larussa in Milan in 1927, she was married to a journalist and living in Rome when she met Prince Mario Chigi Della Rovere on that park bench. They married in 1959. The Chigi family descends from banker Agostini "the Magnificent" Chigi who was a Renaissance patron of the arts. Pope Julius II added the Della Rovere to the Chigi name.
Chigi, the richest man in Rome, commissioned Raphael among others. His imposing Palazzo Chigi was remodelled in the 17th century, and it was here, and in a castle south-east of the city, that Prince Mario and his princess lived.
The princess also spent time in New York, buying contemporary art and partying at Studio 54. Back from the US she mixed old and new with a light touch. She was particularly interested in decorative Art Nouveau glass, especially by pioneers Emile Gallé and Antonin Daum. There are more than 80 pieces in the sale, many using the luminous carved-cameo technique. This sale is a real treasure trove for collectors.
The couple bought unusual items with charm and style, such as lot 2, an 18th century "verre églomisé" barometer, the glass reverse-painted for a lustrous effect, estimate £1,000-£1,500; a gorgeous part-set of gilded bronze dessert ware, lot 32, which would titivate the most tired trifle (£700-£1,000), and a gorgeously gilded pair of "Mecca" 1820 armchairs (lot 77, £1,200-£1,800).
As well as all the collectable vases there's a sweet, lily pad-shaped "videpoche", or coin tray, from 1920, decorated with nasturtiums, in glass-paste, lot 94 (£1,000-£1,500).
So if you now fancy a Roman holiday, pack your set of four monogrammed Louis Vuitton suitcases (lot 125, £1,000-£1,500) — and flit south.
A noble breed
The auction doesn't stop with the princess's prizes. Lots 150-248 are the possessions of an unidentified noble Genoese family, many sourced through the respected Turin antiques dealer, Pietro Ascorsi.
Serious Italian 18th-century rococo furniture abounds, in beautiful fruit woods such as tulip and amaranth, inlaid or with marquetry, with a very French feel — and weighty price tags. There are also gilded mirrors, chandeliers and firedogs. To light up the furniture there is a beautiful polychrome Murano chandelier — lot 227. While it's not a snip at £4,000-£6,000, it is certainly a jewel. But quirkier and cuter is a lamp made in Turin that is the genuine 18th-century forerunner to greenshaded library desk lamps. In 70oz of solid silver with an aquamarine glass disc to shield the weary worker's eyes, this rare thing, lot 217, is estimated to fetch £3,000-£4,000. Lot 219 is similar, but Genoese.
There are good buys among the grandeur. Lot 189 is a green-and-white and parcel-gilt 18th-century sofa with modern striped silk, for a fair £2,000-£3,000. There's also a useful extending dining table from the Seventies or later, at £600-£1,000 (lot 241).
Finally, for that palazzo look, as part of a four-lot bedroom set, what about a romantic late 18th-century bed canopy in blue and gilt, upholstered in yellow silk, for £500-£800 (lot 246). With that above your head, who needs a coronet?
Sale of the collections of Principessa Ismene Chigi Della Rovere and a noble Genoese family, February 4, Christie's South Kensington.