SONNINI DE MANONCOURT, Charles Nicolas Sigisbert. Voyage en Grèce et en Turquie, fait par ordre de Louis XVI, et avec l' autorisation de la cour ottomane…, Atlas, Paris, F. Buisson, An IX [=1801].
Charles Nicolas Sigisbert Sonnini de Manoncourt (1751-1812), was a French nobleman and naturalist. He was educated in a Jesuit school and then studied Law. Guided by his passion for travelling, however, he abandoned law for a military career. In 1772 he was entrusted with a mission to Guiana. His explorations and topographic observations in unknown lands eventually led to the creation of the canal that bears his name, at the frontier of Peru with Argentina. Sonnini returned to France with a collection of rare birds. In 1777, upon orders of king Louis XVI, he started out on an expedition to Africa together with the Baron de Tott. Sonnini however stayed in Egypt and did not go further, in order to tour the antiquities of that country. Subsequently he visited the Aegean islands, Crete, Asia Minor, the Peloponnese, continental Greece and Macedonia.
The chronicle of his travel to Egypt was published nearly twenty years later, in 1798, and the account of his journey to Greece and Turkey in 1801-1802. During the French revolution, Sonnini lost his property and was financially destroyed and imprisoned. He later (1810-11) lived in Moldavia and other Danubian countries, and wrote voluminous works on natural history, statistics, geography etc. He died without seeing the “flags of the revolution flying all over Greece”, as he had desired.
Sonnini’s account is suffused with love for Greece. He records a wealth of ethnographic material in vivid detail, mainly related to everyday life on the Aegean islands: weddings, a birth in all its detail, diet, traditional medicine, superstitions, celebrations, costumes – mostly female, commercial activities and numerous snapshots of Greek life forty years before the Revolution.
The extremely rare depiction of a Greek woman of the Aegean giving birth to her child shows how Sonnini, who at twenty-six years old was already an accomplished traveller and author, developped an intense interest, not only in nature, but also in the distinctive features of the diverse ethnicities in the countries he visited.
Written by Ioli Vingopoulou