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Pierre-Louis Pierson (French, 1822–1913); Aquilin Schad (Austrian, 1817–1866).
La Frayeur (Fright)
Salted paper print, with gouache
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, The Camille M. Lownds Fund, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, Louis V. Bell and 2012 Benefit Funds, and C. Jay Moorhead Foundation Gift, 2015 (2015.395)
Curatorial description (accessed: 30 November 2015)
In 1856 Virginia Verasis, Countess of Castiglione, was sent to France and urged to persuade Emperor Napoleon III to champion the cause of Italian nationalism by any means necessary. The unrivaled beauty quickly became notorious not only as his mistress but also for her flamboyant self-presentation. Between 1856 and 1867 she collaborated with the photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson, producing an unprecedented body of portraits that reflects both her vanity and her creativity. In this unique painted photograph, the countess flees from a conflagration during a ball. She gave the painter Schad explicit directions about how to embellish the scene. The idea that her photographic image as well as her life were forms of theater prefigures postmodernism’s preoccupation with how mass culture’s images and expectations shape identity.