The Castiglione Countess, a dandy from La Spezia

Virginia Oldoini was born in Florence in 1837, daughter of the Marquis of La Spezia Filippo Oldoini and cousin of Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, prime politician. A few years later her birth, Cavour was planning to build a formidable military base in La Spezia, taking advantage of the natural shape of the Gulf. 

The house of the Oldoinis in La Spezia is the beautiful building you can see in Piazza Sant’Agostino, which at the time had its rear facade almost facing the sea. 

Virginia loves Spezia; she calls it “the beloved village,” her house is visited by officers and aristocrats who make beautiful Virginia an object of admiration. It is likely that in Spezia, the Countess becomes aware of her beauty and how she could use it to pursue her scope.

She moved to Turin, which in the decade before Italy’s unification was an outbreak of patriotic movements and the center of politics for the affirmation of the Italian Kingdom internationally.

Beautiful, intelligent, and wildly unconventional, Virginia is called the “diplomatic of the bed” for her ability to weave influential loving relationships. The powerful cousin did not hesitate to send her to France, the Court of Napoleon III, believing she could help him convince the sovereign alliance.

How Virginia affected Italy’s history is unsure. We know there were many propaganda operations, media, and politics to win the sympathy of the French ally. However, she claimed her crucial role in the Italian unification process for life.

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Dandy icon and model of the early days of photography

Obsessed by her appearance, very vain and unable to remain anonymous, she likes to surprise with provocative stage appearances, buy clothes and launch bizarre fashions. Once, to go to a ball she rolled naked in the glue and then in feathers. On another occasion at the theater, where all were expecting her naked, she appears dressed as a nun. Many can not stand her, and it is thought that the alleged attempt (possibly the Emperess’s) on Napoleon III in her Parisian home is designed precisely to discredit her.

She became the sought-after model by the most influential photographers of the time. They loved her ability to make each pose theatrical and non-conformist and turn everything into surreal artwork.

Her exhibitionism, contempt for normality, and desire to be part of an elite made her an icon of dandyism. She was part of that international spirit, the typically British and French love for excess and fine provocation

She worked closely with the imperial photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson, the author of the Countess’s most famous portrait. He depicted her, at the age of twenty-five, looking through a small monocle. 

La Spezia people see in this photograph the typical local attitude expressed in the motto “Mia che te mio,” look, I look at you!”. The picture also inspired the sculptor Vaccarone for the bust at the main entrance of Virginia Oldoini’shome.

The bust of the countess made by Francesco. Vaccarone