(As always on Enchanted Revelries, you can click an image to see a larger photo)
The Countess of course succeeded, and her newly-found influence and esteem earned her invitation to top-secret meetings with international leaders, her contribution credited for the enduring security of numerous Western nations. When she was called to meet the Prince of Prussia, She may have even convinced Otto von Bismarck to spare Paris from a Prussian occupation after the Franco-Prussian War.
Virginia Oldoini, however, was quick to retreat from the intelligence, wit and feminine strength bestowed upon her character, instead becoming absorbed by intense vanity for the duration of both her public and private life.
La Castiglione’s time in Paris was marked by an intense, bordering on narcissistic, obsession with her image. Intrigued by the relatively uncharted photographic medium, she independently approached the studio of Mayer & Pierson, whose atelier on the Boulevard des Capucines was worshipped by the highest strata of Parisian society. This relationship ultimately produced over 400 portraits, a quantity unheard of for the time, due to the sheer experimental, laborious and economic investment (of her husband) required to realize a single gelatin print.
Devoted to immortalising the beauty of her prosperous youth, she staged a series of intricate scenes meant to evoke both exact and symbolic moments from her life. Each image was accentuated by lavish costumes, staging and poses which were extremely innovative, non-traditional and surreal; a daring artistic trait that added dimension to the air of mystery surrounding her identity.
Despite the divine facade; her porcelain-like exterior and theatrical style many women envied and strived to emulate; the Countess was universally disliked. She had few friends and almost never spoke to women. Her husband had left her after just three years of marriage, returning to Italy furious and bankrupt.
Many first-hand accounts of Castiglione describe an arrogant and “disturbing” character, noting that “her motives were unclear”. Even if the Countess was a pioneer of early photography or an artist in her own right, no one particularly felt like giving her the credit for it.
As her precious looks faded and she began to age, Castiglione locked herself away from all eyes, including her own. During this period of mourning that would extend to the terminus of her life, she became a recluse within her apartment at Place Vendôme, one whose mirrors had been banished and whose every surface dripped in funeral black.
She would only leave the apartment at night, occasionally returning to her photo studio to attempt another photo project, which would later be described by critics as even more morbid and deranged than her earlier portraits.
She died in Paris at the age of sixty two and was given an unremarkable tombstone in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Before her death, she had been valiantly trying to land herself an exhibit of her photographs at the 1900 World Exposition, a show that never was, entitled “The most Beautiful Woman of the Century.”
Now, go make something beautiful!
(¸.•´♥ Tristan ♥
A close up of one of the Countess' gowns created for a photo session. It cost the
current equivalent of $18,000. The fabric of the gown was covered with a gold gilt 'film' so that it would
gleam in the photograph.
It was never worn again.