Virginia Oldoini, Countess
de Castiglione (1837–1899),
better known as La Castiglione, was an Italian courtesan who achieved
notoriety as a mistress of
Emperor Louis-Napoleon of France. She was also a significant figure
in the early history of photography as a model and collaborator
of photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson.
Virginia Oldoini in 1837 in Florence, she married Count Francesco
de Castiglione at a young age. They had a son, Giorgio.
cousin, Count di Cavour, was a minister to the king of Italy.
When the Castigliones traveled to Paris in 1855, the Countess
was under her cousin's instructions to plead the cause of Italian
with Louis Napoleon, Emperor of France. She became Napoleon
III's mistress, a scandal that led her husband to demand a
her two year relationship with the French emperor (1856-1857),
she was invited inside the very close circle of European
She was hated by Empress Eugenie and the women at Court because
the Countess was known for her "divine beauty" and flamboyant
entrances in elaborate dress at imperial balls. One of her most
infamous outfits was a costume in which she portrayed the Queen
of Hearts, with the heart shaped medallion dangling in a suggestive
area of her anatomy.
1856 she began sitting for Mayer and Pierson, the favored photographers
of the imperial court. Over the next
four decades she would collaborate with Pierre-Louis Pierson
on over 400 photographs in which she re-created the signature
of her life for the camera. Most of the photographs depicted
the Countess in her theatrical outfits, such as the Queen of
dress. A number of photographs depicted the Countess in
ways that were undoubtedly risqué for the era -- notably, images
that expose her bare legs and feet. In these photos, her head
1857 the brief affair with Napoleon III was over, inducing
her to return to Italy. Four years later, the Kingdom of Italy
proclaimed, conceivably in part due to the influence that
Countess had exerted on Napoleon III.
after the Franco-Prussian war, in 1871, she was called on by
France to meet Otto von Bismarck in secret to explain
how fatal would be the German occupation. She succeded,
as Paris stayed free of prolonged Prussian occupation.
spent her declining years in an apartment on the Place Vendome
where she had the rooms decorated in funereal
the blinds kept drawn, and mirrors banished -- apparently
so she would
not have to confront her advancing age and loss of beauty.
She would only leave the apartment at night. In 1899,
she passed away at age sixty two, and was buried in Paris.
Debra Finerman. All Rights Reserved.
Website design by Chris Costello