Virginia Oldoini, who lived in the Oldoini palazzo in Piazza Sant’Agostino, was born in 1837 to the Marquis Filippo Oldoini and Isabella Lamporecchi.
Woman of great intelligence and precocious beauty, in 1853 she met Count Verasis of Castiglione, her future husband, actually in La Spezia at the ball at the Croce di Malta hotel (today the head- quarters of the Cassa di Risparmio della Spezia Bank Foundation), where Queen Maria Adelaide used to stay during the summer season.
Having entered the Savoy court, she was soon noticed by her shrewd cousin Cavour, who successfully plotted to make her the lover of Napoleon III in order to guarantee the support of France for the cause of the Italian Risorgimento. The Countess of Castiglione was and remains a divine figure; in her lifetime she be- witched the whole of Europe with her extraordinary beauty.
Paolina of Metternich defined her in no uncertain terms as “a statue of flesh”, and after her death she lived on in the legend she herself had helped to create and embellish. She skilfully manipulated and diffused her own image, having herself photographed in languid poses and superb portraits, thus planning her own immortality by creating a myth which was to survive her thanks to her extraordinary determination and vanity.