The Diana Room is a permanent exhibition at the Mario Testino Museum (MATE) in Lima, Peru. Tucked away from the rest of the photographic displays, it’s a shrine-like testament to the late Princess Diana and the power of photography.
In 1997, Peruvian-born Mario Testino—one of the world’s most influential fashion and portrait photographers—came face-to-face with Diana, Princess of Wales. The sitting, commissioned for Vanity Fair, would have a profound impact on Testino, Diana, and thousands, if not millions, of people around the world.
Testino revealed a different, often hidden side to Diana: modern, unrestrained, smiling, sexual. Happy. Not the cooped-up royal with the weight of the world on her paparazzi-plagued shoulders. The photographer later called the photo shoot one of the greatest experiences of his life. The princess, according to British fashion and art journalist Meredith Etherington-Smith, called it one of the happiest days of hers.
The photos were the last official portraits taken of Diana before her death. She died later that same year, two months after the images were published.
Now, in a restored 19th-century mansion in the Barranco District of Lima, a quiet room in the MATE museum pays tribute to Diana. Testino’s Vanity Fair photos from that day adorn the walls: beautiful, captivating images not only of a princess, but a loving mother, a would-be free spirit, and a radiant individual.
Even a hardened anti-royalist, one with no interest in the princess, would find it hard not to feel something in front of these portraits—portraits of a woman whose life was cut short at just 36 years of age.
Adding to the room’s emotional mix of love and loss, beauty and tragedy, is a single glass-encased mannequin in the center of the room. It wears a white dress designed by Versace and worn by Diana on Testino’s July 1997 cover of Vanity Fair. It’s ghostlike, and stands in perfect, haunting juxtaposition to Testino’s photos, which captured so well a vibrant, lively moment in the last months of Princess Diana’s short, influential, and ultimately tragic life.