Countess Virginia Oldoini Verasis di Castiglione (1835–1899)
1861–67, printed ca. 1930
Gelatin silver print from glass negative
Image: 39.8 x 29.8 cm (15 11/16 x 11 3/4 in.)
Mat: 61 x 50.8 cm (24 x 20 in.)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005
Not on view
Virginia Oldoini, Countess Verasis de Castiglione (1837-1899), created a sensation when she appeared on the social scene in Paris in 1855, having been sent by the Italian statesman Cavour to secretly win Napoleon III over to the cause of Italian unity by "any means she chose." Within months, the statuesque beauty was the mistress of Napoleon III and a much-talked-about ornament of the lavish balls so prevalent during the period. After the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, she led an increasingly secluded existence, which gave rise to fantastic speculation about her affairs. As the years went by, her mental stability declined and she ventured out only at night, shrouded in veils. The countess's raging narcissism found in photography the perfect ally; Pierre-Louis Pierson produced over seven hundred different images of her. In a reversal of roles, the sitter would direct every aspect of the picture, from the angle of the shot to the lighting, using the photographer as a mere tool in her pursuit of self-promotion and self-expression.
Inscription: Inscribed in pencil on print, verso C: "54 (détail)"
Descendants of Adolphe Braun; [Galerie Texbraun, Paris]; [François Lepage, Paris]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, September 16, 1997
The purpose of the enlargement is not known. Its cropping seems to point to a date later than the enlargement of "The Opera Ball" (2005.100.197). [PA; "La Divine Comtesse", p. 184]
A rare original print from the same negative is preserved in a private collection (see La Divine Comtesse cat. no. 78, p. 183, ill. p. 148). The negative is preserved in the Mayer & Pierson archive (10/100), and the title comes from the Countess, likely after Verdi's Un ballo in maschera (premiered February 17, 1859, at the Teatro Apollo in Rome, and in Paris on January 13, 1861); Pierre Appraxine has suggested that this enlargement may come from the 1930s, due to its style of cropping and print quality. [Alteveer/IFA]