Indepth Arts News: |
"The Comtesse de Castiglione (Florence
1837 - Paris 1899)"
1999-10-12 until 2000-01-23
Robert de Montesquiou was entranced by this character
who was not unlike him. An Italian aristocrat living in
Paris, glittering lioness of the Second Empire, Napoleon
III's mistress, the divine comtesse lived afterwards as
a recluse, going out only by night, veiled in black. With
Pierre Louis Pierson's help, she was her own
photographer : some five hundred shots celebrate her
image, her costumes, her body, her attitudes, according
to a ritual she entirely determined, with a surprizingly
modern formal invention.
The name of Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione,
is linked to Second Empire political and courtly
intrigues, to the glamour of the Court at the Tuileries
and to the splendour of a cosmopolitan Paris, the world
capital of fashion and pleasure.
Born in Florence in 1837, Virginia Oldoini married the
Count Verasis de Castiglione very young. A cousin of
Cavour and a close relation of Victor Emmanuel of
Savoy, king of Piedmont, she was sent to Paris in 1856
to plead the cause of Italian unity with Napoleon III.
Her arrogant beauty was a sensation at court. During
the same year, she became the emperor's mistress. In
1857, after a heart-breaking rupture, she went back to
Italy. She was not to come back to France to settle there
permanently before 1861. Separated from her husband,
she then had many liaisons in the world of finance,
aristocracy and politics.
After the fall of the Empire in 1870, she lived more and
more secluded from the world, keeping around her an
atmosphere of mystery, exciting the curiosity of Robert
de Montesquiou who developed a real fascination on
her. They were never to meet, but he collected numerous
objects previously belonging to her. In 1913, he
published a book entitled La Divine Comtesse. La
Castiglione died in 1899, aged 62.
Virginia de Castiglione left a real imprint on her epoch:
photographs of her regularly illustrated publications of
the time. She was behind some five hundred
photographs made during a forty-year collaboration
(1856-1895) with the photographer of the Imperial
Court, Pierre-Louis Pierson (1822-1913).
Contrarily to common use, the countess chose her
costumes, expressions, gestures and even the angle of
the shot. She also defined the end product: portrait,
calling card or painted print. She named each shot,
sometimes after characters or scenes of contemporary
theatre or opera: Scherzo di Folia after Verdi's opera,
Un ballo in maschera, for instance.