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Exhibit Catalog to the Morris County Historical Society's "Out of the Closet" Exhibition

Telemachus and Mentor Relating Their Tales to Calypso

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Richard Westall (artist)
Thomas Williamson (engraver)
Telemachus and Mentor Relating Their Tales to Calypso
Circa 1810
Engraving on paper
28 x 20 1/2 in.
 
Engraving was originally in Acorn Hall. At some point given to Mrs. Thomas Cooke, who gave it to the Morris County Historical Society in 1973.

The Story

 

In the books known jointly as the “Telemachy” in Homer’s The Odyssey, Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, and Mentor, Odysseus’ long-time friend, go on a journey to find out news about Odysseus’ whereabouts after he has been missing for twenty years. For seven of those years, he was imprisoned on the nymph Calypso’s island, until the gods intervened and forced her to let him go.

 

Source: The Odyssey , by Homer, 8th century B.C.E.

 

When Telemachus and Mentor shipwreck on her island, Calypso is still mourning the loss of her beloved Odysseus. She immediately recognizes the similarity between Odysseus and Telemachus, and knows that he is the son of the hero. She pretends not to know who he is, and tells him that no one is to enter her island. Telemachus tells her who his father is, and asks for her mercy. Calypso is so impressed by the youth, she offers him a warm greeting and shows him the natural beauty of her island. She reveals to him that his father Odysseus had in fact been to her island, and she laments his having left her broken-hearted. Telemachus regales her with stories of his adventures prior to his landing at her island.

 

Source: Telemachus, Son of Ulysses  by Francois de Fenelon, 1699

 

 

 

The Engraving

 

This engraving was originally painted in a "painterly style" (a term that goes back to the 19th century, meaning a painting comprised of loose, visible brushstrokes). In contrast, its counterpart, Telemachus Arriving at the Island of Calypso, is executed in a "linear" style - its brushstrokes are concealed and the artist depends heavily on shading and contour. Since this painting is dedicated to the Princess of Wales and the other is dedicated to the Prince of Wales, perhaps the painterly style here is meant to be indicative of femininity.

 

The Renaissance painter Titian executed his paintings in the painterly style; one painting in particular that exemplifies the style and also exudes feminine sexuality is Titian's Venus of Urbino. Here too the figure of Calypso reclines on a couch, but instead of being nude, the shape of her body is revealed through the folds of her drapery. Calypso plays with her hair, as a flirtatious, beguiling look comes over her face. Unlike the Venus of Urbino (who stares out at the viewer), she looks fascinated by the young Telemachus and gazes fondly in his direction.

 

Behind Telemachus stands Mentor, wearing the beard of an older man. In contrast, Telemachus is shown as a rosy-cheeked youth who moves his hands excitedly as he relates his stories to the nymph. Two of Calypso's handmaidens stand behind Calypso, entranced by Telemachus' story. Although Telemachus is the speaker and everyone looks in his direction, the curvaceous body of Calypso is clearly the focal point of the engraving. Nature infiltrates the tent, as tree branches dangle by her feet; she is half in the civilized, human world and half in the world of the wild.

 

 

 

The Painter: Richard Westall

 

Richard Westall  (1765 – 1836) was a painter of portraits and historical/mythological subjects. Westall was born into a family of painters, but his two artist half-brothers were less successful in their lifetimes than Richard was. Westall apprenticed under a heraldic silver engraver in London before studying at the Royal Academy of Art in 1785. He exhibited at the Academy regularly and was elected an Academician in 1794.