Comtesse De Castiglione


1832-1899. Courtesan, political agent, selfie queen.


La Castiglione, as she was known, predated Cindy Sherman and her elaborate self-portraits by a century - but becoming the first selfie queen would come later in life. Without her, Europe could very well look very different today. Famous for becoming Napoleon III’s imperial mistress — a scandal that caused her husband to divorce her — she originally met the leader of France under the auspices of pleading for Italy’s unification. (She was successful). He was quickly enchanted by her beauty — she was said to have eyes that would change in color, from green to blue — and she moved to Paris.

Her vanity would leave an indelible mark on the worlds of photography and art.

After the exile of Napoleon III and France’s defeat during the Franco-Prussian war, La Castiglione convinced Otto Von Bismarck, in a secret meeting no less, to bypass Paris in his occupation of France. In her later years, living in a macabre but fabulous black-shrouded apartment, she became a patroness of the photographers Mayer and Pierson. She poured her fortune into having her photograph taken; while she was known, at the time, for being quite vain, her vanity would leave an indelible mark on the worlds of photography and art. A Surrealist before their time, she was imperious about the creative direction of her portraits. Nearly 700 photos were taken of her, and every single one was executed in her vision and her vision alone.

So, in 2017, just remember… it’s not narcissism if it’s art. (Or is it?)