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]