If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of modeling and fashion photography, now is the perfect time for you to meet a significant figure in the history of photography and the genre itself: Countess di Castiglione, the world’s first fashion model.
Born Virginia Elisabetta Luisa Carlotta Antoinetta Teresa Maria Oldoini (1837 – 1899), Countess di Castiglione was an Italian aristocrat of minor Tuscan nobility who rose into prominence for her affair with Emperor Napoleon III of France. However, she also made a name in the realm of early photography as an artist and for being the world’s first fashion model.
Virginia Oldoini was a known beauty, and was even considered as the most beautiful woman of her time. In 1855, she traveled and moved to Paris to lobby the cause of Italian unity with Napoleon III, under the instructions of her cousin, minister Camillo Cavour. Aside from quickly yet briefly becoming the mistress of the emperor, Countess Di Castiglione also became interested in photography during her time in the French capital.
In July 1856, she visited the studio of Mayer & Pierson, one of the most esteemed portrait studios at the time. Her first sitting sparked a four-decade-long partnership with Pierre-Louis Pierson, collaborating with him and directing him to take what would become the earliest collection of fashion photos. Together, they created 700 different photographs of the Countess in various elaborate dresses and costumes. Take a look at some of them: