Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Telemachus and the Nymphs of Calypso

Angelica Kauffmann (Swiss, Chur 1741–1807 Rome)
Oil on canvas
32 1/2 x 44 1/4 in. (82.6 x 112.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900
Accession Number:
Not on view
Angelica Kauffmann was born in Switzerland but made her reputation in Italy and England, where she was a founding member of the Royal Academy. In Rome she frequented the sophisticated intellectual circle of Winckelmann and Mengs.

These pictures were painted for Monsignor Onorato Caetani shortly after Kauffmann settled in Rome, in 1782. The subjects are taken from Fénelon's romance Télémaque, first published in 1699. In one picture Telemachus and his companion, Mentor, who have been washed ashore, are welcomed by Calypso and her nymphs. In the other, Calypso motions her nymphs to be silent when their songs about Telemachus's father Ulysses make him sorrowful.
These two scenes from the life of Telemachus, son of Odysseus, are based on the novel The Adventures of Telemachus, published by the influential French theologian and political theorist François Fénelon in 1699, and popular throughout Europe during the eighteenth century. Telemachus, guided by Athena in the guise of Mentor, was shipwrecked off Calypso’s island while searching for his father. In the first scene (25.110.188), Calypso's nymphs gather around Telemachus, offering him fruit, wine, and a garland of flowers. At left the elderly, bearded Mentor is led away by Calypso herself. In the second (25.110.187), Calypso silences the nymphs who have been singing Odysseus’s praises when she sees the sadness of his son.

Kauffmann describes the pictures in her Memoria delle piture (Knight 1998) and records that they were commissioned by Monsignor Onorato Caetani. The first entry is dated Naples 1782 and the second Rome 1783. Both compositions are friezes, with similarly constructed backgrounds; the prices and sizes are identical; they must have been intended as pendants.

Caetani—apostolic protonotary, savant, and writer—belonged to an ancient and noble Roman family and was a younger son. He commissioned portraits of himself from Anton Raphael Mengs in 1779, from Pompeo Batoni in 1782, and from Kauffmann in 1783. Later that year, Kauffmann was working on four large oval canvases representing allegorical figures for Caetani; these were completed in January 1784, when she submitted her bill of 858 Neapolitan ducats for five of the six works, including the two catalogued here. Nine months later, she accepted what proved to be a final commission from this collector, for a portrait of the duchessa di Corigliano with her son and his nurse (location unknown).

A smaller version of the Museum's Sorrow of Telemachus, with a somewhat different background (Vienna art market, 1998), had as a pendant Bacchus Teaching the Nymphs to Make Verses (location unknown), which Kauffmann was working on in August 1787. A larger, signed version (Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur, Switzerland), painted in 1788, had as a pendant The Departure of Adonis for the Hunt (private collection, France).

[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Monsignor Onorato Caetani, Naples and Rome (from 1782); [Haskard, Florence, until 1895; sold to Agnew]; [Agnew, London, 1895–99; sold to Fischof]; [Eugène Fischof, Paris, from 1899]; Collis P. Huntington, New York (until d. 1900; life interest to his widow, Arabella D. Huntington, later [from 1913] Mrs. Henry E. Huntington, 1900–d. 1924; life interest to their son, Archer Milton Huntington, 1924–terminated in 1925)
Athens. National Pinakothiki, Alexander Soutzos Museum. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Memories and Revivals of the Classical Spirit," September 24–December 31, 1979, no. 71.

Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 26.

Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Grandes maestros de la pintura europea de The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York: De El Greco a Cézanne," December 1, 2006–March 4, 2007, no. 21.

Victoria Manners and G. C. Williamson. Angelica Kauffmann, R.A.: Her Life and Her Works. repr., 1976. London, 1924, p. 142, as painted in Naples, 1782, for His Excellency Don Honorato Gaetani, "a picture of three english feet, ten by two feet nine . . . Paid in 100 neapolitan ounces".

Estelle H. Ries. "Angelica Kauffmann." Arts & Decoration 28 (November 1927), ill. p. 48.

Dorothy Moulton Mayer. Angelica Kauffmann, R.A., 1741–1807. Gerrards Cross, 1972, no. 42, ill.

James David Draper and Joan R. Mertens. Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Memories and Revivals of the Classical Spirit. Exh. cat., National Pinakothiki, Alexander Soutzos Museum. Athens, 1979, p. 198, no. 71, ill. p. 199 (color), mention the source as Fénelon's "Les Aventures de Télémaque".

Anthony Morris Clark. Studies in Roman Eighteenth-Century Painting. Ed. Edgar Peters Bowron. Washington, 1981, p. 132, fig. 166, as commissioned by Caetani.

Paul Lang in Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur: Gemälde und Skulpturen. Chur, 1989, p. 34.

Waltraud Maierhofer. Angelika Kauffmann. Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1997, p. 95.

Bettina Baumgärtel in Angelika Kauffmann. Ed. Bettina Baumgärtel. Exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf. Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, 1998, p. 393.

Carlo Knight. La "Memoria delle piture" di Angelica Kauffman. [Rome], 1998, p. 15, no. 22, transcribes the entry from Kauffmann's Memorandum of Paintings in the original Italian.

Mary Vidal. "David's 'Telemachus and Eucharis': Reflections on Love, Learning, and History." Art Bulletin 82 (December 2000), pp. 714, 718 n. 28, fig. 9 (color).

Katharine Baetjer in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 17, 148–50, 152, no. 26, ill. (color) [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, pp. 17, 84–86, no. 21, ill. (color)].

Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 139–40, 142, no. 62, ill. (color).

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