top of page


Rome 1781-1835 Rome

Telemachus Relates his Adventures to Calypso as Mentor Listens, 1809

Telemachus Relates his Adventures to Calypso as Mentor Listens, 1809

Signed and dated, verso, lower right, Pinelli fece 1809 / Roma; and inscribed, verso, upper right, Calipso prega Telemaco di terminare il raconta di sue aventure prima de giungere all Isola / del Cipro, and lower left, Coll. de grunling / N° 882 / Pinelli fec 1809/Romae. f 20.

Pen and black ink, with brush and grey and brown wash over traces of black chalk

16 ½ x 23 ¼ inches

420 x 590 mm


Joseph Grünling, Vienna (Lugt 1107) (his sale: Vienna, 25 February-19 March, 1823, lot 882, “Calipso priant Télémaque de raconteur ses aventeurs avant de partir pour Chypre. Minerve sous la figure de Mentor, avec une hibon [sic] à côté d’elle, l’écoute—Dessin à la plume et lavé au bistre, à grande touches, sur papier blanc. Pièce faite à Rome en 1809”)

Artaria & Co., Vienna (Lugt 5492) (their sale:  Vienna, Dorotheum, Collection Ataria, 7 April 1933, part of 195 [one of six sheets])

Joseph Eferdinger (1871-1941), Vienna (Lugt 5493)


J. Grünling, Cabinet de J. Grunling: La partie des dessins originaux, Vienna, 1823,  no. 882

Our drawing depicts the scene in Homer’s Odyssey (circa 725 B. C.) in which Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, having been shipwrecked on the nymph Calypso’s island with his tutor, Mentor, describes to her their adventures.  They were in search of his father, Odysseus, the Greek hero and King of Ithaca, who left his native city to fight in the Trojan War twenty years prior and had still not returned, despite the fall of Troy ten years before.  Telemachus is seated with Calypso in the center of the composition, while two of her handmaidens are seated to the left and Mentor, listening to Telemachus, stands to the right.  The scene, as tradition has it, occurs in a grotto-like setting, in this instance with a beautiful island landscape and bay beyond.  In Homer’s epic poem, Mentor is really Athena, the goddess of Wisdom, in disguise.  Her attribute, an owl, can be seen next to Mentor in our drawing.  This conforms to mythology, where the owl sits beside Athena’s left leg because she is blind in one eye, thus helping her to see the whole truth.  Athena had a special affection for Odysseus and his son, instilling them with the wisdom they needed to be leaders, warriors, and, in the case of Telemachus, a future king.

While Telemachus and Mentor appear in Homer’s Odyssey, they are later the main protagonists in François Fénelon’s didactic novel, Les aventures de Télémaque, first published anonymously in 1699 and reprinted by Fénelon’s family in 1717.  This was certainly the literary source for the present sheet, which illustrates a scene from Book I.  The novel, comprised of twenty-four books, embellishes the story of Telemachus, and was seen in the eighteenth century as a discourse on good government, with peace, simplicity, and brotherhood rising above war, greed, and selfishness.  Fénelon’s ideal was Republican Greece as opposed to Imperial Rome, and Les aventures de Télémaque was taken as a denunciation of autocratic, monarchial rule (specifically, that of Louis XIV) in favor of governance by a constitutional monarchy in which a king would be advised by a council of patriarchs, and disputes between nations would be resolved not by war, but by a federation of nations.  The novel, an instant success and immensely popular throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was translated into every European language, and had a profound effect on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, who re-read it frequently, and many other Enlightenment figures.  It would prove an inspiration to both French Revolutionaries and German Romantics.  Espousing the importance of the individual and, equally, an individual’s ties and commitment to family, fatherland, and fellow human being, to a world greater than oneself, Fénelon’s novel was a seminal work in the evolution away from autocracy and towards, ultimately, democracy.

A drawing by Pinelli of the same subject, comparably large and executed in the same technique, is in the Art Institute of Chicago.¹  It is one of twelve drawings by the artist in that collection, all on this grand scale and in this same technique, and all dated 1808, from an album illustrating scenes from The Adventures of Telemachus.  Made a year before our sheet, the drawing in Chicago differs from ours in several ways:  Telemachus sits to the left of Calypso, and Mentor to the left of Telemachus; seven as opposed to two of Calypso’s nymphs are present; and the scene occurs in an open landscape with a large tree and waterfalls on either side in the mountainous background.  Like many of his contemporaries, Pinelli clearly fell under the influence of Fénelon’s Telemachus.  Although it would seem likely, it is not known whether our drawing or the Chicago sheets were preparatory for illustrations to a published version of the novel.

Bartolomeo Pinelli, a painter, draftsman, sculptor, and engraver working in early nineteenth-century Rome, portrayed many aspects of everyday life there as well as in the south of Italy. Having studied sculpture with his father, he attended the Academy of Saint Luke in Rome and the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. He returned to Rome at the end of the 1790s and sold his work in cafés frequented by tourists on the Grand Tour. His first important series of colored engravings, Raccolta di cinquanta costumi pittoreschi, was published in 1809, the year of our drawing.  This was followed by illustrations to Virgil’s Aeneid in 1811, the history of Greece in 1812, and the history of Rome in 1816.  Although Pinelli achieved some success as an illustrator in his lifetime, he died destitute in Trastevere, the neighborhood in which he was born.

The present sheet was originally in the distinguished collection of Joseph Grünling at whose 1823 sale it was purchased by the well-known music publishing firm, Artaria & Co., whose clients included amongst other musicians, Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn.  Founded in 1770 in Vienna as a publishing house for art and maps,

Artaria continued to be a leading music publisher through the nineteenth century until the early twentieth century.  In 1920, Freytag & Berndt acquired its cartographic publishing business. The publishing business was dissolved in 1932, and its stock of Old Master and modern drawings, including the present sheet, was sold at the Dorotheum in 1933.

  1. Inv. no. 1963.561; 455 x 575 mm, sight; 559 x 668 mm, overall.

NEW YORK OFFICE +1 212 249 7212

MOBILE +1 917 744 9095


Thank you

bottom of page