How it influenced the baroque painters
By Kamna Kirti
This is an exemplary story of a woman Pero who secretly breastfed her imprisoned father Cimon who was starving to death in prison.
The selfless devotion of Pero to nourish his father Cimon at her own breast is called “Roman Charity”. It is history’s most altruistic story of honoring one’s parent.
History of Roman Charity
The kindness of Pero towards her starving father in prison depicts one of the Corporal works of mercy — “To feed the hungry.” Corporal works of mercy are given by Jesus in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew.
This story of Pero and Cimon is registered in Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium by an ancient Roman historian Valerius Maximus. It is believed in the Romans that this story is related to the mythological story of Juno’s breastfeeding of the adult Hercules.
Additionally, the wall frescos and paintings excavated from Pompeii revealed the visual representations of Pero and Cimon.
How the Baroque painters were influenced by Roman Charity
The Seven Works of Mercy by Caravaggio
The Seven Works of Mercy is a painting made by the Baroque artist Caravaggio in 1607. The seven Corporal works of mercy are depicted in this painting.
The iconography of the painting shows a woman breastfeeding her starving father in prison. This painting of Caravaggio gained a lot of traction from painters in Italy, France, and Spain.
Cimon and Pero by Charles Mellin
Charles Mellin was a French painter in the Baroque period who painted Cimon and Pero.
Cimon and Pero by Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens was a flemish artist in the Baroque era who became one of the most influential painters in Christian history. His version of Cimon and Pero painting became a benchmark for many of his followers.
And his followers added another element to the painting in the 17th century — A child near Pero’s feet. This was done to prevent any incestuous interpretation of the deed although the existence of the child was implicit as Pero was shown lactating in the painting.
The influence of Roman Charity in the modern world
In the 20th century, novels, paintings, and movies have depicted Roman Charity in one form or another.
The 1973 film O Lucky Man! has a scene where the starved protagonist is breastfed by the vicar’s wife. A noble gesture by a woman rather than leaving the man sentenced to death by starvation.
The story of Pero and Cimon is yet another act of kind and altruistic gesture of a woman playing every role of a mother, daughter, and wife elegantly and with integrity.
The story inspired artists of all genres and fields and developed art rich in heritage.