Telemachus Relates His Adventures to Calypso as Mentor Looks On in Disapproval
Illustration of a scene in Les avantures de Télémaque (The Adventures of Telemachus) by François de Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon (French, 1651–1715), Paris: 1699

Michele Sangiorgi, Italian, 1785 - 1822

c. 1810

Pen and brown ink and brown wash over black chalk, heightened with white opaque watercolor, on two joined sheets of wove paper toned with light brown wash

Sheet: 29 1/8 x 34 1/8 inches (74 x 86.7 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, 1985

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Michele Sangiorgi was a little-known Emilian artist who died in Rome at the age of thirty-seven, cutting short a promising career and leaving behind few paintings. Most of his known surviving works are drawings, often large in scale and highly finished like this sheet. The subject is the Greek mythological figure Telemachus, son of the hero Odysseus, who becomes shipwrecked on the island of the nymph Calypso while searching for his long-absent father. When he tells the nymph of his trials and adventures, unaware that she has only recently been abandoned by the wandering Odysseus, Calypso transfers her love for the father to the son.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The majority of Sangiorgi’s surviving works are drawings, often large in format and fully realized in terms of detail and the complexity of the compositions. The size and degree of finish of this grand and elegant drawing, which has been attributed to the artist, suggest that it was intended as an autonomous work of art. It depicts in learned detail an episode from François de Salignac de La Mothe Fénelon’s Les Avantures de Télémaque, book 7, published in Paris in 1699 as a work of moral instruction for the education of the duke of Burgundy’s son. Fénelon chose to recount in novel form the story of Telemachus’s wanderings in search of his father, Ulysses, a minor theme in the original saga as it is known from Homer’s Odyssey but one laden with suggestive details attractive to author and artist alike. In the episode illustrated here, Telemachus and his attendants have been shipwrecked on the island of the nymph Calypso, who lives with other nymphs in a grotto hewn from the rock, bedecked with vines and flowers. Telemachus tells the nymph of his trials and adventures, unaware that Calypso has only recently been abandoned by the wandering Ulysses. The machinations of Venus cause Calypso to transfer her love for the father onto the son, who trustingly fondles Cupid, unaware of the mischievous little creature’s wiles. Telemachus’s guide and advisor, Mentor (himself prompted by Minerva), devises a desperate but effective plan to rescue the young man from a life of idleness in the arms of Calypso: he heaves Telemachus into the sea, restoring him to his senses. The subject spoke to a learned audience steeped in classicism and also dealt with a theme popular at the time, the friendship between men, epitomized by the friendship of Socrates and Alcibiades, which was, in fact, the subject of a painting that Sangiorgi left unfinished at the time of his death. The artist spelled out the lesson in the drawing by giving Mentor the facial features of Socrates, as known from an antique sculpture. Other contemporary works that indicate the popularity of the Telemachus subject are a pair of paintings by Angelika Kauffmann in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Clark, Anthony M. Studies in Roman Eighteenth Century Painting. Selected and edited by Edgar Peters Bowron. Art History Series, vol. 4. Washington, D.C.: Decatur House Press, 1981, pls. 165-66), a drawing by Christoph Heinrich Kniep signed and dated 1799 (Naples, Palazzo Reale. Goethe e i suoi interlocutori. Exhibition catalogue by Annalisa Porzio and Marina Causa Picone. Naples: Gaetano Macchiaroli, 1983, no. 81), and a drawing by Bartolomeo Pinelli signed and dated 1808 (Cleveland, Ohio, The Cleveland Museum of Art. Neo-Classicism: Style and Motif Exhibition catalogue by Henry Hawley. Cleveland, Ohio: The Cleveland Museum of Art, distributed by Harry N. Abrams, 1964, no. 165), as well as a hundred of Pinelli’s etchings in Avventure di Telemaco: Telemaco inventato e inciso da Bartolomeo Pinelli (Rome, 1828), of which plate 39 shows Telemachus caressing Amor. These contemporary images might have some bearing on the date of the present drawing. The Pinelli drawing of 1808 shares the critical configuration of Telemachus holding Cupid on his knees while Mentor looks on in disgust. Did Sangiorgi derive this element from the slightly older and more prominent Pinelli? If so, the Philadelphia drawing must be dated after 1808. There is another drawing by Sangiorgi, a third again as large as the present sheet, that shows another episode from the Telemachus epic, Telemachus among the Shepherds (Faenza, Palazzo Milzetti [X Biennale d'arte antica]. L'età neoclassica a Faena, 1780-1820. Exhibition catalogue edited by Anna Ottani Cavina, Franco Bertoni, et al. L'arte del Settecento in Emilia e in Romagna. Bologna: Alfa, 1979, no. 259, pl. 225). It was apparently one of the works the artist sent back to the Congregazione di Carità in Faenza in obligation for the subsidy they granted him. It was subsequently acquired by the Pinacoteca Comunale in Faenza. Unfortunately, the earlier provenance of the Philadelphia sheet is not known. Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 65.

    Galleria Carlo Virgilio, Rome. Schede, 1983-84. Catalogue edited by Fausta Cataldi Villari. Rome: Galleria Carlo Virgilio, [1985], no. 4, repro. p. 25.