Amazing 19th Century Photos of Countess Virginie de Castiglione by Pierre Louis Pierson

In 1844 Pierre-Louis Pierson began operating a studio in Paris that specialized in hand-colored daguerreotypes. In 1855 he entered into a partnership with Léopold Ernest and Louis Frédéric Mayer, who also ran a daguerreotype studio. The Mayers had been named “Photographers of His Majesty the Emperor” by Napoleon III the year before Pierson joined them. Although the studios remained at separate addresses, Pierson and the Mayers began to distribute their images under the joint title “Mayer et Pierson,” and together they became the leading society photographers in Paris (source).

Pierre Louis Pierson´s most interesting professional project is the close collaboration he led with Virginia Oldoini, the Countess of Castiglione. She directed Pierre-Louis Pierson to help her create 700 different photographs in which she re-created the signature moments of her life for the camera. Both enjoyed creating playful identities within which the countess could be a Madonna, a sensual vamp revealing her legs and feet or a fantasy creature clad in eccentric costumes (source).

countess

La Comtesse décolletée; Roses mousseuses (Countess Virginia Oldoini Verasis di Castiglione)

by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861–67

via

beat

Béatrix  (Countess Virginia Oldoini Verasis di Castiglione)

by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1856–57

via

metmuseum.org

psych

La Psyché  (Countess Virginia Oldoini Verasis di Castiglione)

by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s.

via

metmuseum.org

stell

Stella (autre) (Countess Virginia Oldoini Verasis di Castiglione)

by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1860s.

via

metmuseum.org

Advertisements

Photographs of the Countess de Castiglione – La Divine Comtesse

Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione (1837 – 1899), better known as La Castiglione, was an Italian aristocrat who was a special agent for the cause of Italian unification, the mistress of Napoleon III, and a mysterious recluse notorious for her numerous love affairs. She was born to a noble Florentine family and at 17 she married the Count di Castiglione. It was a bad match; she cheated on him shamelessly and eventually left him bankrupt. In 1857 they separated. She left Paris in 1858, due to the scandal surrounding her liaison with Napoléon III.

Before that, while still living in Paris, the Countess had created a sensation. The beautiful statuesque countess was both decadent and extravagant. Lavish balls where prevalent during the period and she became known for her flamboyant entrances in elaborate dress at the imperial court. One of her most infamous outfits was a “Queen of Hearts” costume. She was even considered the most beautiful woman of her time and was described as having long, wavy blonde hair, pale skin, a delicate oval face, and eyes that constantly changed colour from green to an extraordinary blue-violet. Her vanity was as famous as her beauty and she would send albums of her portraits to friends and admirers.

In 1865 she arrived in Paris again, to plead for Italian unity on behalf of her cousin, then a minister to the king of Sardinia. After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, Oldoini led an increasingly secluded existence, which gave rise to fantastic speculation as to her affairs. Her declining years were spent in an apartment in the Place Vendôme, where she had the rooms decorated in funereal black, 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.

Photographs

The Countess´s raging narcissism found in photography the perfect ally, and she was a significant figure in the early history of photography.

In 1856 she began sitting for the firm Mayer and Pierson, photographers favored by the imperial court. Over the next four decades she directed Pierre-Louis Pierson to help her create 700 different photographs in which she re-created the signature moments of her life for the camera. She spent a large part of her personal fortune and even went into debt to execute the project. Most of the photographs depict the Countess in her theatrical outfits, such as the Queen of Hearts dress. Many of the portraits record the countess’s triumphant moments in Parisian society, wearing the extravagant gowns and costumes in which she appeared at soirées and masked balls, in others she assumes roles drawn from the theater, opera, literature, and her own imagination.

A number of photographs depict her in poses risqué for the era—notably, images that expose her bare legs and feet. In these photos, her head is cropped out.

Robert de Montesquiou, a Symbolist poet, dandy, and avid art collector, was fascinated by the Countess. He spent thirteen years writing a biography, La Divine Comtesse, which appeared in 1913. After her death, he collected 433 of her photographs, all of which entered the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Scherzo di Follia

Scherzo di Follia

Pierre-Louis Pierson 1863–66, printed 1940s

[The Opera Ball]

The Opera Ball

Pierre-Louis Pierson,1861–67, printed 1895–1910

Sunday

Pierre Louis Pierson, 1860s

[Countess de Castiglione as Elvira at the Cheval Glass]

Countess de Castiglione as Elvira at the Cheval Glass

Pierre-Louis Pierson,1861–67

La Marquise Mathilde

La Marquise Mathilde

Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861–66