Countess de Castiglione//The first fashion model!

Virginia Oldoini, Countess de Castiglione (1837-1899), better known as La Castiglione, was an Italian courtesan who achieved notoriety as a mistress of Emperor Napoleon III of France. She was also a significant figure in the early history of photography being the first ‘fashion model’ even and a close collaborator of photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson.

She was known,(as supermodels of each era are..)for her “divine beauty” and flamboyant entrances in elaborate dress at the imperial court. One of her most infamous outfits was a “Queen of Hearts” costume.  In 1856 she began sittingaka posing as a model with her own doing the styling, for Mayer and Pierson, the favoured photographers of the imperial court. Over the next four decades she would collaborate with Pierre-Louis Pierson on over 400 photographs in which she re-created the signature moments of her life for the camera. Most of the photographs depict the Countess in her theatrical outfits, such as the Queen of Hearts dress.

A number of photographs depicted the Countess in ways that were undoubtedly risque for the era,(granding her the title of the first true visionaire fashionista!) mostly, images that she chose to expose her bare legs or feet and mind you were still at the 19th century! . In these photos, her head has been cropped out.Another artistic experiment perhaps, or an effort to achieve the minimum modesty the era required?We will never know…We can just derive inspiration and admire the courage of a woman that imposed her very personality over a whole era in terms of visionary style..and vanity…

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