This tapestry depicts Telemachus and Calypso. According to myth, Telemachus, the son of Ulysses set out in search of his father when he failed to return after the Trojan war. He was accompanied by the goddess Minerva who was disguised as his old mentor. Telemachus was, as his father had been earlier, shipwrecked on the island of the goddess Calypso, who fell in love with the youth. She convinced him to stay and tell her his previous adventures. Telemachus while on the island fell, however, in love with one of her nymphs, Eucharis, and provoked the goddess' wrath. His mentor rescued him by throwing them into the sea against his will, and a passing vessel saved him.
Comparable Tapestries and Weavers:
A tapestry of identical subject and nearly identical borders but without the central cartouches to the top and bottom of this tapestry is illustrated in J. Boccara, Ames de Laine et de Soie, Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988, p. 91. It is signed to the lower outer slip by the Brussels weaver Albert Auwercx, who became a member of the craft in 1657 and was active with a workshop for astonishing 60 years.
A tapestry depicting the same subject differently designed but with a surprisingly closely related interpretation of the scene and drawing of figures is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (G. Delmarcel, Flemish Tapestry, Tielt, 1999, p. 328). It was executed by Urbanus and Daniel Leyniers at least seven times between 1724 and 1739 and was designed by Jan van Orley and Augustin Coppens. It is therefore probable that the designs for the offered tapestry, which must have been woven before 1717 (when Auwercx died), formed the inspiration and basis for the subsequent set. D. Heinz (Europäische Tapisseriekunst des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, Vienna, 1995, p. 212) indicates that Marcus or Jodocus de Vos supplied a set of eight tapestries of this series, not based on the Leyniers model, to Franz Adam von Schwarzenberg in 1712 (parts of it may still be in the Czech Republic), but the scene of this tapestry appears to have been omitted for that set. However, there are records of one of these sets also having been supplied to the Cernin family at castle Petrohrad and is listed in an inventory in 1733 (J. Blazkova, Wandteppiche, Prague, 1957, p. 54). Blazkova further points to an exact copy of that subject by Pierre Mercier of Berlin (not indicated if signed or attributed) and which is said to have been executed in 1715 (H. Göbel, Wandteppiche, Leipzig, 1934, part III, vol. II, fig. 42). The borders of this tapestry would, however, indicate that it was almost certainly manufactured in Brussels, and very likely by the de Vos family who used identical borders on various tapestries (for example a set of four tapestries by Jodocus de Vos, depicting a series of Venus and Adonis, sold in these Rooms, 25 March 1960, lot 93).
The very similar execution of the designs for this tapestry and the later series may indicate that Jan van Orley and Augustin Coppens designed even the first series of 1712. It is interesting to note that the first series (the offered tapestry) was based on a preliminary and not complete version of the liberal French archbishop and theologian François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon's Les Aventures de Tèlèmaqu which was published in 1699. This incomplete version was banned by the French court in Versailles and was only re-issued in a final and complete version in 1717, on which van Orley's second Leyniers series was based (Heinz, op. cit., p. 222 and Delmarcel, op. cit., pp. 316 - 317).
Jan van Orley (d. 1735) was one of the three most important tapestry designers and the most talented of the early 18th Century in Brussels. He worked very closely with the Leyniers workshop and produced six very successful series for them, the earliest being The Story of Don Quixote. Augustin Coppens (d. 1740), who collaborated on the set, was a highly skilled landscape painter who usually worked with history painters to produce tapestry designs and is recorded as cartoon painter as early as 1689.