L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Friday, May 4, 2018

The irredeemable moment - la comtesse Castiglione in Paris, circa 1856-57

More than four years ago I posted an extensive visual resumé and biographical sketch of the notorious Italian countess. Her monomaniacal fantasies, abetted by the photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson, are celebrated for their theatrical excess - eventually tinged with desperation - and have made her a legend in the history of early photography. But in her own time, she was celebrated for her beauty - with long, wavy golden hair, a delicately pale complexion, and eyes that seemed to change color from green to blue-violet - and known for her liaison with the Emperor of France.

The count and countess with their son, Giorgio.

But before that, she was a seventeen year old girl, a member of the minor Tuscan nobility, married off to Count Francesco Verasis di Castiglione, a man twelve years her senior. The following year, the eighteen year old countess had her only child, a son, Giorgio. Next year, the couple traveled to Paris, where the countess was under instructions from her cousin, Camillo, Count Cavour, to plead the cause of Italian unity with Napoléon III - by whatever means. So, at nineteen, she became the Emperor's mistress. The year after that, her marriage in shambles, her scandalous affair with Napoléon at an end, she left Paris for Italy and a self-imposed exile. She was just twenty.

She returned to Paris four years later where, separated from her husband, she reestablished herself in Parisian society, forming numerous liaisons with notable aristocrats, financiers, and politicians. And it was after her return to Paris that began in earnest her obsessive photographic chronicling of her own image, the theatrical posturing and dress-up that would be her legacy.

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