Known as La Castiglione, Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, an Italian aristocrat, came to Paris in 1856, perhaps as a spy, and briefly became mistress to Napoleon III. Her husband then left her, already bankrupted by her extravagance.
She then spent decades and put all her money and more into a series of hundreds of photographs she orchestrated in order to re-create the “defining” moments of her life, and to showcase all the facets of her celebrated beauty.
Working with famous Paris photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson, she “art-directed” the photos, even choosing the camera angle, and directing the painting that was often done to the photographs, sometimes doing it herself.
Many of the photos show her wearing the fancy gowns and costumes in which she dazzled Paris’s high society, and others show her enacting characters from plays or books, or from her imagination. She often sent photos of herself, perhaps posed as an innocent or a seductress, to her lovers and admirers.
When her beauty faded, she kept to herself in a black apartment without mirrors and only went out at night.
La Castiglione also makes an appearance on Anomaly Panoply mugs:
- Variations on the "Elvira" and "Ritrosetta" Dresses
- Les Cothurnes 1 (Cothurnes are a high shoe worn in Greek tragedies.)
- Les Cothurnes 2
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has hundreds of La Castiglione's photos.
Yvonne de Carlo starred in the 1955 film, La Castiglione (The Contessa's Secret).