La Castiglione: Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione

La Castiglione, as she is known around the world, mainly in France, was Countess of Castiglione and known as the most beautiful woman of her time, a seductive behind-the-curtains diplomat, and one of the earliest photographing models. She is also notoriously known as the mistress of Napoleon III.

She was born Virginia Elisabetta Luisa Carlotta Antonietta Teresa Maria Oldoini, Virginia Oldoini for short. She was born in Florence, Tuscany, on the 22nd of March 1837. She married Francesco Verasis, Count of Castiglione when he was recommended to look no further than his own country to find the most beautiful girl of all Europe by his friend in England, whilst looking for a bride there. And such, the Count came across Virginia and they married out of love in 1853, when Virginia was barely 17. The two had a son, Giorgo, but after some years, Virginia became bored with her routine lifestyle, and took up a lover, Ambrogio. When Ambrogio found himself detained from work and both were separated by distance, La Castiglione took up another temporary lover, Ambrogio's brother, Marcelo. Both brothers were oblivious to another, until Virginia resumed her affair with Ambrogio when he returned from duty. However, Virginia found that the once trilling affair had become as monotone as her married life, and she looked for more excitement and spontaneity where she could.

Suddenly, she was visited by the King of her region, Victor Emmanuel II, king of Sardinia, through her cousin, Camillo, Count of Cavour, who was minister to the King. The King, taken by her, explained his plans of unifying Italy with the help of France, by going into war with Prussia. The idea blossomed that a diplomat should go to plead Victor Emmanuel II's case, and the diplomat's role was given to Virginia. However, Francesco was reluctant to move to Paris, as in his blind love, he had given Virginia the best luxuries, and was starting to quickly run out of money. In the end, however, he could not say no to her, and so, the couple moved to Paris in 1855, to 10, Rue de Castiglione, both amused by the idea of living in a street that carried their name.

Through aristocratic gatherings, Virginia met Napoleon III in the same year as her arrival, and just as quickly became his mistress. Francesco, now completely broke and unable to continue to cope with his wife's personality and affairs, divorced her, also in 1855, taking their son with him. During her fame in Paris, and starting even from when she was in Italy, Virginia had become vain, proud, and selfish, believing to be superior to all women and men alike, as a result of the constant admiration people felt when looking at her. Her vainness showed itself in the hundreds of photos she had taken of herself, mainly by early prominent photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson, who used her as a model.

In 1857, Napoleon III decided the affair had gone on long enough, and moved on from Virginia, who returned to Italy at the rejection. However, her role in the aid of Italy worked, as in 1859, Napoleon III joined Victor Emmanuel II in battle, resulting in many victories. Virginia herself, at the end of the affair, felt no longer useful, nor prominent as when she had been politically active in Paris. To satisfy her boredom, she began to have multiple affairs, until, in 1870, she briefly reprised her diplomatic role. At the defeat of the France in the Franco-Prussian wars, Napoleon III called on Virgina to plead to Otto von Bismarck, Minister President of Prussia, not to humiliate France further by occupying Paris.

After her brief diplomatic moment, she felt even more useless once it was over, but was also getting old, and felt as if her beauty was being destroyed by time. Having had moved back to Paris, she locked herself in her apartment, clothed herself entirely in black and removed all mirrors from her home. She only ventured out at night, under the protection of a veil, and became known as the crazy lady of 26, Place Vendôme, running away if anyone looked at her too long, despite the cover of darkness.
She died in 1889, aged 62.

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