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

A Collection of Portraits by Boston Studio “Southworth & Hawes” (1850s)

American photographic studio Southworth & Hawes was established in Boston, Massachusetts in 1843 when Albert Sands Southworth, a druggist, and Josiah Johnson Hawes, a painter, joined together to open a daguerreotype studio. Though portraits were the bulk of the firm’s production, they also produced landscape views.

From 1849 to 1851 Southworth left the studio to travel to California. He returned in 1851 and renewed the partnership with Hawes.

In 1853 Hawes purchased the rights to John Adams Whipple’s process for making paper prints called crystalotypes and the firm began to produce them.

In 1861 the partnership was dissolved. Both Southworth and Hawes continued to operate separate studios in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Unknown woman by Southworth and Hawes, ca. 1850s via

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Unknown woman by Southworth and Hawes, ca. 1850s via

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Miss Hodges of Salem, MET, 1850 via

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Lola Montez by Southworth & Hawes, 1851 via

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The Letter by Southworth & Hawes, ca. 1850 via

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Unknown bride by Southworth and Hawes, ca. 1850s via

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Albert Sands Southworth – Untitled, ca. 1851 – 1854 via

A Collection of Victorian Era Photos by Roger Fenton (1850s)

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Roger Fenton, Lady on Horseback, MET, 1850s via

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The Billiard Room, Mentmore by Roger Fenton, 1858 via

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Bolton Abbey by Roger Fenton, 1850s via

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Wharfe and Pool, Below the Strid, MET, by Roger Fenton, 1854 via

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert by Roger Fenton, 1854 via

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert by Roger Fenton, 1854 via

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Victoria, Princess Royal and her sister Princess Alice by Roger Fenton, 1855 via

A Collection of Victorian Era Photographs by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (1850s)

John Dillwyn Llewelyn (1810 – 1882) was a botanist and pioneer photographer. His earliest daguerreotype is dated 1840. A few of his early photogenic drawings have survived, including some cliché verre, dated 1839. When the Royal Photographic Society was founded in 1853, Llewelyn was one of those who attended the foundation meeting at the Society of Arts in London, and was, for some years, a founder Council member.

The majority of his images were taken around his estate of Penllergare, near Swansea, and around the Welsh coast. There are also a number taken in Cornwall over several years, many in Bristol including some pioneer animal and bird images in Clifton Zoo, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and a few in Scotland. His circle of photographic friends included Philip Henry Delamotte, Robert Hunt, Hugh Welch Diamond and especially his distant relative Calvert Richard Jones.

His last images would appear to date from the end of the 1850s after which it is possible that his health prevented any further photographic activity.

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John Dillwyn Llewelyn, Oakley Cottage, MET, 1853–56 via

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Emma Charlotte Dillwyn Llewelyn’s Album, MET, 1853–56 via

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John Dillwyn Llewelyn, Birthday Group, MET, 1856 via

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John Dillwyn Llewelyn, Two Women, One Kneeling and One Standing, Looking into Basket Filled with Vegetables, MET, 1853–56 via

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John Dillwyn Llewelyn, Gipsies, MET, 1853–56 via

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John Dillwyn Llewelyn , Thereza and the dickies, early 1850s via

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John Dillwyn Llewelyn, Emma, wife of John Dillwyn Llewelyn/ The National Library of Wales from Wales/Cymru, 1852 via