The Italian Almanac

Virginia Oldoini Veracis
Countess of Castiglione

"One, ten, hundreds cannons
for the Countess of Castiglion"
- popular quote -


Virginia Oldoini Verasis, Countess of Castiglione
(1837 - 1899)

She was the original "it" girl, a Florentine who became the toast of Parisian society at the tender age of 19. Beautiful and aristocratic, Virginia Oldoini became the Countess de Castiglione by virtue of an arranged marriage to Count Francesco Verasis de Castiglione. Her cousin, a minister to King Victor Emmanuel of Piedmont, sent her to France secretly acting as an agent for the unification of Italy (still under the thumb of the Austrians), hoping her enticing presence and seductive powers would sway the court of Napoleon III.

Seduce she did. Fluent in several languages including an unaccented English, the Countess' combination of youth, beauty and brains made her the most talked-about woman in Paris salons -- not least because she became mistress to Napoleon within weeks of her arrival. Her marriage ended in separation and scandal, yet the extravagant lifestyle that bankrupted her indulgent husband gave birth to "La Divine Comtesse".

Through her exquisite beauty and her relationship with the Emperor, she held quite a bit of political clout at mid-century. The Countess inspired numerous artists and writers, and although almost every man in Paris desired her, she did not find much favor with women, who were often jealous of her beauty and status.

Sadly, Castiglione died alone, a little mad, devoted to her dog and to her illustrious past.