Would you think that a 1837-born woman would have anything familiar to the Reality show star and selfie queen Kim Kardashian? Well, it turns out that the Italian countess Virginia Oldoini, born to a rich Florentine family, had a lot in common with Kim. Some of these included: tons of money, controversy, and a lot of haters. We forgot the most important thing, and that is the love for camera, too. Who was this lady queen and what was she famous for?
At 17, Virginia was married off to Count di Castiglione, but it didn’t work out. Two years and one child later, she cheated and bankrupted him, then promptly set off for Paris. There, she had a short-lived affair with Napoleon III that made her extremely popular, and as she was incomparably pretty – she became vain.
She wrote a book titled ‘The Most Beautiful Woman of the Century.’ And that was her actual autobiography, but she didn’t live to finish it.
She was so arrogant and eccentric, she once made an entrance to a ball draped on the emperor’s arm dressed as the Queen of Hearts.
“The heart is a bit low, Madame,” the empress famously mocked. At gatherings, the Countess refused to speak to women. Also, she was like a goddess waiting for people to admire her.
This would all have been a secret if it wasn’t for the Countess de Castiglione’s lifelong relationship with the camera. Over the course of her short life, the Countess had over 400 photographs taken of herself by Pierre-Louis Pierson. The Countess acted as art director for her selfies, and she wasn’t passive at all. She chose her costumes, poses, camera angles and what we’d now call “post-production processes.” We can proudly say that she was probably the original Selfie Queen.
In La Divine Comtesse, a book of photographs of the Countess, the curator Pierre Apraxine notes how her body of work was thought to be trivial and narcissistic. Apraxine also acknowledges that the Countess predated the Surrealism movement attributed to artists like Cindy Sherman and Claude Cahun.
Do you think that she has a lot in common with Kim Kardashian?
It all started with the debut of Kardashian’s book “Selfish” in 2015, which is a book composed entirely of selfies. Leah Bourne of StyleCaster said Kardashian had “ushered in a new kind of fame, one in which you can be famous for seemingly being nothing more than yourself.”
It seems that Countess de Castiglione preceded Kim by about 150 years. Perhaps the Countess and Kim offer the world nothing but a great self-worship. Or maybe a hidden feminist work of art, to say the least.
The Countess’ early photographs drew on characters from mythology, Biblical symbolism, and literature. She is Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Eritrea, a corpse, a nun.
Her favorite prop is a mirror.
Through her photographs, the Countess documented her life’s triumphs, including her Queen of Hearts costume and her son Giorgio. Once she even sent a terrifying image to her ex-husband when he attempted to take Giorgio away. It was titled “Vengeance.” In it, she stands, staring in a murderous way with a knife in her hand dripping fake blood.
Kim’s “Selfish” book, on the other hand, documents a span of time. It’s actually a progression from childhood to megastar, featuring cameos from friends, siblings and business associates.
The Countess’ progression is different. It’s quite disturbing, showing mental deterioration and instability.
One could almost feel her grief over her loss of youth through photographs.
One image is dominated by her bare bloated feet.
By 1870, the Countess disappeared from society. Shockingly, for 25 years she hardly left her house and when she did, it was to document her own disintegration. Tragic, right? We have yet to see what Kim has to do with her life and fame. For now, all we know is that she is expecting her third child via a surrogate mother.