A very fine and large octagonal needlework panel Depicting a scene from the ‘Adventures of Telemachus’

French, Possibly From The St Cyr Atelier. Late Seventeenth Or Early Eighteenth Century.


Framed: Width: 38 1/3" (97.5 cm); Height: 38 1/2" (98 cm)

Of colored wools on canvas. 

Inscribed on reverse of canvas: 
Telemaque instruit des regles du commerce par Narbal 1666
Two alpha numerical inscriptions, one reading ‘A 26’

A West Coast Collection

This large needlework panel, dating from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, depicts a scene from the adventures of Telemachus, son of the Greek hero Ulysses (the Latin variant of Odysseus) and his wife, Penelope. The first four books of the Odyssey by the Greek poet Homer (b. circa 8th century BC) are also known as the Telemachy, as they are devoted to Telemachus’ formative years in the absence of Ulysses following the Trojan War, and his journey to find news of his missing father. Centuries later, Les aventures de Télémaque, fils d’Ulysse (The adventures of Telemachus, son of Ulysses) was written by Franois Fénelon (1651–1715), archbishop of Cambrai and tutor of the Duc de Bourgogne (grandson of Louis XIV and Dauphin of France), for whom he wrote the novel. 

In the scene portrayed by the present needlework, Telemachus is brought on a Phoenician ship to the city of Tyre, sailed by Narbal, commander of the Tyrian fleet. Narbal instructs Telemachus on the power and prosperity of the Phoenicians, an the rules of trade in Tyre, as well as the volatile demeanor of the Phoenician King, Pygmalion. 

In late seventeenth century France, needlework was raised to an exalted art form and “embroidery, rather than painting, was the art form emblematic of the Sun King’s Versailles.” Monsieur Léon de Laborde wrote of seventeenth century French embroidery panels in Renaissance Des Arts a la Cour de France (1850) that “the art of embroidery then became a serious and esteemed sister of painting; for the needle, in truth a painter’s brush, traversed its canvas, leaving behind it a dyed thread as a colour, producing a painted soft in tone, ingenious in touch—a picture without glistening surface, brilliant without harshness.”

The embroidery of the present panel is executed in petit point, also known as point de Saint-Cyr, esteemed for the fineness of its small scale. The intricate and time consuming stitching is not only delicate enough to convey minute details, such as facial features, but is tightly packed and durable, lending itself to use in upholstery and table coverings.  Saint-Cyr embroidery is so-called after a seventeenth century boarding school – the Maison Royale de Saint Louis – established in 1684 by the morganatic wife of Louis XIV, Madame de Maintenon, for educating impoverished young women from noble families. Interestingly, Madame de Maintenon was inspired by Fénelon and his views that led to his publication of De l’éducation des filles in 1687.5 First located at the Château de Noisy, the school was relocated to Saint-Cyr, a small village near Versailles, in 1686. Here, in addition to studies in religion and language, “needlework played an important part in the curriculum,”6 and the women were instructed in the art of embroidery by professional artisans. 

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.