The Inspiring Story Behind the “Nasty” Paintings of a Woman Breastfeeding an Old Man

A Daughter Breastfeeding Her Father: A Story That Inspired Artists And Gained Admiration

The action may seem wrong but the reasoning behind it is heartbreaking.

• The paintings show a daughter who happens to breastfeed her father because he was sentenced to die of hunger in prison.
• The captors were made to empathize with the duo after she was caught breastfeeding her father.
• It was this story that many European Artists used as an inspiration in their paintings.

Generally, this kind of behaviour between a father and a daughter would be frowned upon and people would oppose it because it’s immoral. Nevertheless, the depiction of the European paintings gained love and admiration. It was because this daughter was breastfeeding her father only as a result of him being sentenced to die in prison out of hunger.
Based on the story of Roman Charity, the daughter who is Pero by name breastfed her father Cimon because of his sentence to die in prison out of hunger. The paintings derive their depiction based on this story.

Painting by Peter Paul Ruben

Roman Charity Peter Paul RubenAs the story goes, Pero pleaded to the government to grant her permission to visit her father in prison until he died. Her prayer was granted but she was prohibited from bringing any edible items with her. Therefore, she was always checked before she visited her father.

The painting of Rembrandt Peale

Roman Charity Rembrandt Peale

The thing that guards didn’t know was that Pero was breastfeeding her father and as a result prolonged his life. The suspicion arose because Cimon was alive even after being imprisoned for days.

The painting of Pieter Van Mol

Roman Charity Pieter Van Mol

However, she was eventually caught, and a case was brought against her. Surprisingly, her action made the officials more empathetic and Cimon was eventually released from prison.

Roman Charity Pieter Van Mol

In fact, a similar narration can be found at the time of the Roman historian Valerius Maximus. It was later narrated again by Pliny the Elder who lived from AD 23-79 but the Baroque and Renaissance story had a strong depiction of taboo incest.
Peter Paul Rubens, Hans Sebald Beham, Rembrandt Peale and Caravaggio, including other European artists from the 17th and 18th centuries, have depicted this story through paintings.

The story was immortalized by a statue on top of the annex of the Belfry of Ghent in Antwerp, Belgium.

Roman Charity Belfry of Ghent in Antwerp, Belgium

Also known as “mammelokker,” meaning breast sucker in Dutch and goes as back as 1741, while the building was known to be an entrance to a city jail.

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Written by Shanilka Perera

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