Joke of Madness

This is Virginia Oldoïni, the Countess Verasis of Castiglione, photographed by Pierre-Louis Pierson.  It’s titled Scherzo di Follia, which translates to the Joke of Madness. This lovely photograph may look modern, but it’s 159 years old!

“Scherzo di Follia,” the Joke of Madness, circa 1863


‘La Castiglione’ was photographed over 300 times by Pierre-Louis Pierson, over the course of 40 years.

The photographs were bold and–as the Countess bared her shoulders and legs–they were indecent by the standards of her day. What would have been unforgivable for a poorer and plainer woman was seen as charming eccentricity in the Countess.

As she grew older, and especially after the death of her son when he was a young man, the Countess of Castiglione became a recluse and had occasional fits of madness.

This photograph, and several variations of it, are housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.