The Selfie-Obsessed Countess of Vanity

In our modern world, smartphones allow anyone to be obsessed with their own photographs, and the internet allows those folks to broadcast their obsession to the world. But even in the days when photography was new, expensive, and relatively difficult, Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione, harnessed her wealth to record herself in over 400 portraits. She wasn't a photographer, but an artist, with herself as the medium.

She wasn’t the most likeable character of her time. Once rumoured to be the most beautiful woman in 19th century Europe, a queen of both style and drama; model, mistress, self-appointed muse, narcissist; if there’s one thing to know about the Italian Countess de Castiglione– it’s that she was seriously vain. Shipped off to Paris in 1856 to compete for the affection of the reigning King Napoleon III, she wasted no time weaving herself into a highly scandalous affair with the crown, all the while cultivating her own celebrity through hundreds of elaborate, self-directed photo shoots. At a time when photography was still in its infancy, the Countess had a body of work that could be compared to Kim Kardashian’s selfie collection. It was her vanity and obsession with her own beauty that came to define her entire lifestyle, around which her status, identity, and ultimately her demise, revolved. A cautionary tale of a woman who thought her beauty would last forever…

The Countess was used and abused by the European nobility for their own ends in her younger life, which reads like gossip column fodder. But she is most remembered for her legendary vanity and her portrait obsession. Read about the Countess of Castiglione and see more images at Messy Messy Chic.

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