The Countess of Castiglione was a sort of Paris Hilton of the Second Empire. Except instead of scandals involving videotaped sex and starring in a television show where rich girls slop the pigs á la Marie-Antoinette, the countess seduced Napoleon III and horrified Paris by wearing costumes with no underwear. Obsessed with clothes and, when she was young, making a scene wherever she happened to be, she was probably a bit vapid. I'm talking about the countess here. But she did one lasting thing: she had a photograph taken of herself that is undoubtedly the most enigmatic of all early photographic portraits, in which she is holding an empty oval frame up to her eye.
The picture evokes so many thoughts and questions about the nature of looking and being looked at. I've been baffled and taken in by that photograph ever since I first saw it in a book, when I was 20.
The Swedish word for the day is grevinnan. It means, of course, the countess.
- by Francis S.