Student Work

  • Fashion Studies (MA)

    Caroline McCauley

    An Intimate Space and View: The Countess of Castiglione's Performance of Image, Sexuality, and Femininity

    This thesis turns to the Second French Empire to analyze female representation, eroticism, fetishism, and subjectivity. I look to the photographs of Virginia Oldoini, the Countess of Castiglione (1837–1901), who, as a “masterpiece” and a “tableau vivant,” continually placed herself in front of the camera in various mise-en-scènes. 

    While Castiglione was by no means groundbreaking in all of her photographs, I focus on the ways in which she defied the conventional use of photography, transgressed boundaries for the presentation of the female body, and eluded categorization. Castiglione’s photographs were unprecedented in their anti-realist perspective, in their explicitly erotic and informal nature, and in their depiction of a multiplicity of female personas performed. Castiglione’s “use of her own body as the primary source of her art” foreshadows modern performance artists, such as Claude Cahun and Cindy Sherman. Employing Butler’s conceptualization of a subversive act of gender, I put forth that the photographs of Castiglione serve as a private and intimate space in which the feminine is constituted as a performed act and in which femininity can be constructed, deconstructed, and subverted.