Real Tennis history in Europe

A Baroque Painting Showing the Ancient Roots of Tennis

Any exhibition that may be projected on the history of tennis, should open with a Baroque painting that testifies to the ancient heritage of the game. The picture shows Nausicaa, after she has played a game called pila on the beach with her courtesans. Antonio Scaino in his Trattato del giuoco della palla, Venice 1555, quotes Nausicaa as the first female ball player, and he encouraged contemporary damsels to pick up the game as well. The Ulysses and Nausicaa painting was inspired by the Sixth Book of Homer's Odyssey. Here Homer relates how Nausicaa, the daughter of King Alcinaus of the Phaeasians, fell under the spell of Ulysses. Desubleo's painting shows Nausicaa offering her lover clothing to cover his nudity, after he had been shipwrecked. The ball in the foreground, and the wooden implement held by Nausicaa, a paletta or early racket, are of particular significance to us as Desubleo included these elements to portray the ancient roots of tennis. Desubleo's painting of c. 1650, originally attributed to Guido Reni, is preserved in Naples' Capodimonte museum.

Odysseus and NausicaaDesubleo, Michele, "Odysseus and Nausicaa", Oil on canvas, 217 x 270 cm, Naples, Museo di Capodimento