A Collection of Vintage Photos featuring 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.

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Scherzo di Follia by Pierre-Louis Pierson 1863–66, printed 1940s via

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The Opera Ball by Pierre-Louis Pierson,1861–67, printed 1895–1910 via

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The Gaze by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1856–57 via

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Countess de Castiglione by Pierre-Louis Pierson, ca. 1865 via

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Countess de Castiglione as Elvira at the Cheval Glass by Pierre-Louis Pierson, 1861–67 via

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Pierre-Louis Pierson, The Countess de Castiglione, 1860s via

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Pierre-Louis Pierson, The Castiglione with Fan, c. 1861-1867 via

Louise of France Princess of Bourbon (1906)

Louise Françoise Marie Laure d’Orléans (1882 – 1958) was a Princess of the Two-Sicilies and maternal grandmother of King Juan Carlos I of Spain. Louise was the youngest daughter of Philippe d’Orléans (1838–1894), Count of Paris and claimant to the French throne as “Philippe VII”. Her mother was Princess Marie Isabelle d’Orléans (1848–1919), daughter of Antoine, Duke of Montpensier, and Infanta Luisa Fernanda of Spain.

On 16 November 1907, Louise married in Wood Norton, Evesham, Worcestershire, UK, Infante Carlos, Prince of Bourbon-Two Sicilies (1870–1949), and widower of Mercedes, Princess of Asturias, Infanta of Spain. The couple lived in Madrid and had 4 children.

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Louise of France Princess of Bourbon, 1906 via

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Louise of France Princess of Bourbon by Léopold-Émile Reutlinger, 1906 via

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Louise of France Princess of Bourbon by Léopold-Émile Reutlinger, 1906 via

Marie Bonaparte

Princess Marie Bonaparte Princess George of Greece and Denmark (1882-1962) known as Princess George of Greece and Denmark upon her marriage, was a French author and psychoanalyst, closely linked with Sigmund Freud.

Her wealth contributed to the popularity of psychoanalysis, and enabled Freud’s escape from Nazi Germany. Marie Bonaparte was a great-grandniece of Emperor Napoleon I of France. She was the only child of Prince Roland Bonaparte (19 May 1858 – 14 April 1924) and Marie-Félix Blanc (1859–1882).

Her paternal grandfather was Prince Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte, son of Prince Lucien Bonaparte, who was one of Napoleon’s rebellious and disinherited younger brothers. For this reason, despite her title Marie was not a member of the dynastic branch of the Bonapartes who claimed the French imperial throne from exile.

Her maternal grandfather was François Blanc, the principal real-estate developer of Monte Carlo. It was from this side of her family that Marie inherited her great fortune.

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Marie Bonaparte via

 

Princess Clara Ward Postcard

Clara Ward (1873 – 1916) was a wealthy American socialite who married a prince from Belgium. Her main talents were being beautiful by the standards of the time, and being famous. She combined the two by posing on various stages, including at least the Folies Bergère and probably also the Moulin Rouge, while wearing skin-tight costumes.

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Postcard of theater star Clara Ward, ca. 1900s via