Her behaviours did not make her a very pleasant person, but that was not a big deal for the Countess. In mid 19th century she was instead considered amongst the most beautiful women in Europe.
Court woman, narcissist and muse of herself, the Countess of Castiglione was an example of absolute vanity
Virginia Oldoini got married in her 17’s with Francesco Verasis, Count of Castiglione, that she used to call “the cuckold”.
In 1856 she was sent to Paris by her cousin, the Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, in order to seduce Napoleon III and gain an alliance between France and Piedmont. Virginia succeeded in the attempt and became the official lover of the emperor for more than a year, raising anger and envy of a high number of women.
Beside the scandalous relationship, Virginia Oldoini nurtured the cult of her beauty through hundreds of pictures, where the scenography was thoroughly organised by herself.
In an epoque where photography was just at its start, the Countess collected a series of portraits that would be the envy of many selfie queens nowadays.
Her vanity and obsession for her beauty determined her lifestyle, aimed at not growing old.
The time spent in Paris was affected by her intense narcissistic obsession for her image. Fascinated by the cameras, she turned to the Mayer & Pierson studio, very appreciated by the whole Parisian noble society.
The Countess commissioned over 400 portraits, an astonishing number for that era, both from an economical point of view, and for the time consuming procedure that creating a single print would require.
Each painting was supposed to immortalise her splendid youth, sometimes with the aid of complex scenes, which had to evoke important specific moments of her life.
She loved to wear costumes and take on non traditional postures, sometimes surreal. The daring artistic trait of Virginia is an experience of a woman out of time.
Behind this vain mask there was very likely a goal of perfection that no one else but her could reach.
Below: picture coloured by Loredana Crupi
Although she was generally disliked by the women of her time (to whom she never said a word to), her theatrical style was very envied and copied throughout.
She used to have very few friends and her husband left her after 3 years from their wedding. This decision was not hard to believe due to her character, known to be extremely arrogant.
Her photographic portraits were defined by her peers as “unsettling” as “her reasons were rather unclear”.
Even thought the Countess of Castiglione can be considered as a pioneer of the photographic posing, to this day no one has given her that recognition.
When the sparkle in her eyes started to abate and her face was not so smooth anymore, the Countess denied her presence to anybody, including herself.
She lived the grief of the beauty loss and decided to remove all the mirrors she had in her house, surrounded only by the pictures displaying the appearance of her young aesthetic.
She died in Paris when she was 62 and got buried at the cemetery of Père Lachaise. Before her death she had tried, without success, to set up an exhibition of her pictures at the “Exposition Universelle of 1900”, which was supposed to be called “The most beautiful woman of the century”.
Her life became subject of many books as well of a film titled “The Countess of Castiglione” of the 1942.