She is the Italian Princess who for 25 years has fought to receive a share of one of the world’s most treasured art collections after claiming her mother was the secret love child of a famed British aesthete.Now, Dialta Orlandi is poised to inherit a large slice of an estate thought to be worth up to pounds 800 million, containing both the superb 6,000-piece collection and an exquisite Florentine villa, after DNA results confirmed she is the granddaughter of Arthur Acton.The bitter legal feud began after Sir Harold Acton, Arthur’s son, an art connoisseur born in Italy, died childless aged 89 in 1994.The avowedly homosexual philanthropist, immortalized as the stuttering Anthony Blanche in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, left most of his fine art and property to New York University (NYU) with a smaller bequest to the British Institute in Florence.It includes the magnificent 60-room Renaissance Villa La Pietra, which overlooks Florence.Guests have included the Queen; DH Lawrence, Pablo Picasso, Graham Greene, and Sir Winston Churchill. But a year after his death, Liana Beacci, a Florentine hotelier, came forward claiming to be his half-sister, born of an affair between Arthur, his father, and Ersilia, his secretary.And on July 18 Florence’s civil court ruled what all of its smart society already knew: that Beacci, the late mother of Orlandi, was fathered by Arthur.The case was strengthened by reforms of Italy’s inheritance laws in 2013 that made it illegal to discriminate against children who were born out of wedlock.Finally, the respect and consequent rights that are owed to my mother for much too long have been given to her
It will now go before Italy’s Supreme Court. Orlandi, a princess by marriage and the youngest of Beacci’s five children, told The New York Post’s Page Six website: “It’s a great satisfaction. It’s about 25 years that the NYU has fought us not to have the paternity of my mother recognized.“Finally, the respect and consequent rights that are owed to my mother for much too long have been given to her,” she added.John Beckman, the NYU spokesman, said the university was reviewing the court’s ruling and deciding whether to appeal. The Villa La Pietra, with its 40,000-volume library and formal gardens, and four other houses, set in a 57-acre park, was inherited by Sir Harold in 1953.It became the home of his father and his wife Hortense Mitchell Acton, the Chicago banking heiress, in the early 1900s and has since been turned into the “jewel in the crown” of NYU’s “study abroad” programme for students.Mother-of-five Orlandi, who splits her time between Los Angeles and Honolulu with Vittorio Alliata di Montereale, the Sicilian prince, added: “I don’t need any money at all, we live in great luxury”. She said the legal fight was “all about principle to me.”In 2004, after a judge ordered an exhumation, DNA from Arthur Acton’s teeth was compared to Beacci’s, with a geneticist and forensic expert concluding there was a 99.95 per cent likelihood that the two were father and daughter.But the NYU accused two court-appointed specialists of “procedural irregularities” and suggested that in the lab Beacci’s DNA may have “polluted” Mr Acton’s — which was too old to have been reconstructed with certainty.I don’t need any money at all, we live in great luxury
Beckman said in a statement: “Importantly, this decision relates to the issue of paternity and has no bearing on the inheritance claims, which remain before the court.“With respect to inheritance, many crucial legal and factual issues remain to be addressed including, significantly, the fact that Villa La Pietra was purchased by Hortense Acton – the putatively betrayed spouse.“We remain confident that in the end, the courts will not disrupt the vibrant cultural and educational institution that NYU has created at Villa La Pietra in accordance with Sir Harold Acton’s wishes.”While Villa La Pietra is part of Florentine history – it was owned over the centuries by a succession of powerful bankers, including those to the Medici – it became a legend thanks to Arthur Acton.The scion of an important Anglo-Italian line that went back to an Acton who was prime minister of 18th century Naples, he moved into the villa in 1903.He recreated the villa’s original main Renaissance garden and began amassing the works of art that became the Acton Collection.