| Medium : Normandy factory, Printing in purple
Within Greek mythology, Telemachus is the son of Odysseus and Penelope. He is a character in Homer’s “Odyssey” whose story is told in the first four books named “The Telemachy”. Telemachus is very young when his father leaves for the Trojan War. Twenty years later, he goes in search of his father who is slow returning from the war. First he goes to Pylos, to the home of Nestor, then to Sparta, to the home of Menelaus, in order to gather information about his father. Nestor does not know anything, but Menelaus reveals to him a vision that Proteus had about his father: Odysseus is being held against his will by the nymph Calypso. Calypso was the daughter of the Titan Atlas and lived on the island of Ogygia. Calypso welcomed Odysseus, loved him and held him for seven years, offering him immortality if he agreed never to return to Ithaca. However, she was forced to let him go by the gods. In the seventeenth century, these travels inspired a novel called “Les aventures de Télémaque” (The Adventures of Telemachus), a didactic French work by Fénelon published in 1699 without the author’s name, for the education of the Duke of Burgundy, the grandson of Louis XIV. In the novel, Fénelon recounts the adventures of the son of Odysseus, accompanied by Mentor. At the time, this novel, a pretext for moral and political education, was also seen as a satire of the reign of Louis XIV. It was one of the most widely read works of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century and was reprinted several times, inspiring numerous hugely successful ballets and operas.
On this canvas, the printer depicts Telemachus’s stay, accompanied by Mentor, on the island of Calypso, where he believes his father is being held by the nymphs against his will. Four scenes with captions in capital letters depict this episode:
- Telemachus arrives on the island of Calypso: Guided by the goddess Minerva, disguised as Mentor, Telemachus lands on the Island of Calypso after a storm. The goddess Calypso is inconsolable after the departure of Odysseus and gives Telemachus a more favourable welcome, offering him immortality if he agrees to remain on the island with her.
- Telemachus’s dream: During the journey from Tyre to the island of Cyprus, Telemachus falls asleep and, in a dream, sees Venus and Cupid inviting him to the enjoyment. Minerva also appears to him, protecting him.
- Mentor separates Telemachus from Eucharis: Telemachus feels an intense passion for the nymph Eucharis, which provokes Calypso’s jealousy and anger. She promises to banish Telemachus from her island and urges Mentor to build a ship to take him back to Ithaca.
- Calypso’s nymphs set fire to Mentor’s ship: As Mentor leads Telemachus to the shore to set sail, Cupid consoles Calypso and forces the nymphs to burn the ship. Upon seeing the flames, Telemachus feels a secret joy; however, the sage Mentor, who notices this, hurries Telemachus into the sea, throwing himself in with him, to swim to another ship that is stopped near the island of Calypso.
These four scenes are most likely inspired by a series of prints by Choubart and Benoist based on Lordon, published in 1820, bearing the following titles: Telemachus arrives on the island of Calypso. Mentor separates Telemachus from Eucharis, Calypso’s nymphs set fire to Mentor’s ship. Telemachus’s dream. (Prints held in the print room in Paris (Compendium of P.J Lordon Dc 91 Fol and Compendium of N. Bertrand SNR 3 Houiste)