Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Countess Of Castiglione

Virginia Oldoini, Countess Of Castiglione, was one of the most renowned women in Europe in her day—and, for a time, one of the most beautiful.

Minor noble, aristocrat, diplomat . . . and spy, the Countess (1837-1899) is most remembered today as onetime mistress of Napoleon III. She also served as inspiration for countless artists, including many early photographers, whose work fascinated the Countess. Several photographs of the Countess in the 1850s created a sensation throughout the continent, and remain provocative even by today’s standards.

After The Franco-Prussian War, the Countess spent the remainder of her life in seclusion, seldom leaving her apartment in Place Vendôme—and then only at night, and while wearing a succession of heavy veils.

The Countess’s apartment was decorated in black. Blinds were drawn and mirrors banished; the Countess wished not to confront the loss of her beauty.

At the very end of her life, the Countess, now mad, invited several photographers back to her apartment. After an absence of many years, the photographers were again requested to take photographs of the Countess.

At least two photographers complied. One of the results is this little-seen photograph, the least-known of all surviving photographs of the Countess—and, it is believed, the very last photograph taken before her death.

In the photograph, the Countess’s madness is apparent.

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