The article presents and discusses a unique and unpublished volume entitled the Classical Bouquet by the learned Cretan woman Elisavet Contaxaki to be presented on behalf of the Kingdom of Greece at France’s First Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1855. This 114-page volume consists of painted illustrations of the principal monuments and places in the Kingdom of Greece, to which are added a few pages from her native isle of Crete. These illustrations are explained by quotations from Ancient Greek authors, historians, philosophers and poets in the original language and include translations into French as well as literary excerpts from English, French and Italian. Many of the pages are adorned with flowers from the sites depicted in the drawings. After the conclusion of the Universal Exhibition in Paris, Miss Contaxaki donated this piece of art to the United States.
The article is divided into three parts: the first examines the structure and the content of this volume, the second explores its travels from Crete to Washington DC, and the third suggests a more nuanced interpretation of Contaxaki’s controversial personality. The goal of this article is to bring to light this important source unknown to scholarly literature, shedding light on the politics and diplomacy of 1860s Crete. The Classical Bouquet is a valuable primary source for a cross-disciplinary study in literature and the arts, socio-political history and diplomacy. It is also an important source for gender and cultural analysis by providing evidence on its exceptional author as well as on the formation of Modern Greek identity in the nineteenth century.