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Roman Charity : Why Woman Breastfed Old Man In Prison!

The painting of a young woman breastfeeding an old man in prison has gone viral.

Take a look at the viral claim and find out what the facts really are!


Viral Claim About Woman Breastfeeding Old Man In Prison

This photo of a classical painting is being shared on WhatsApp, social media platforms like Facebook, and even Reddit, together with this claim:

This painting of a young woman breastfeeding an old man in a prison cell was sold for 30 million Euros. The painting may look perverse but the story behind is from historical records.

The poor man was sentenced to “death by starvation” for stealing a loaf of bread during the reign of Louis XIV in France. The woman was his only daughter and the only visitor to his cell. She was allowed to visit him daily but was frisked thoroughly such that no food was taken in.

When after 4 months the man still survived with no weight loss, the authorities were perplexed and started spying on her in the cell and to their utter astonishment found her to breastfeed her father to the fullest sharing her baby’s milk. The judges then realizing the compassion and love of the woman for her father, pardoned the father and set him free.

This piece of history brings into focus how deep is a woman’s compassion in our daily lives that men often tend to overlook.


Roman Charity : Why Woman Breastfed Man In Prison!

As inspiring as the story is, this is yet another example of FAKE NEWS, and here are the reasons why…

Fact #1 : That’s Roman Charity By Jules Joseph Lefebvre

The photo is of an oil painting on canvas called La Charité romaine (Roman Charity) by French painter, Jules Joseph Lefebvre.

Fact #2 : Roman Charity By Lefebvre Was Never Sold

The La Charité romaine (Roman Charity) painting by Jules Lefebvre was never sold for 30 million Euros.

It was purchased by the French government in 1864 for 1,500 francs, and displayed at the Melun Museum in 1865.

The French government later donated the painting to the Melun City Hall at 16 rue Paul-Doumer, where it can be seen in the wedding hall.

In the photo taken by Stephane Asseline in 2003, you can see the words Donné par l’état (Donated by the state) engraved into the frame.

Fact #3 : Roman Charity Is A Story Of Cimon And Pero

The real Roman Charity story is about Cimon who was convicted of a serious but unspecified crime, and sentenced to die of starvation.

Even though the prison guards were instructed not to provide him with water or food, Cimon surprisingly survived for more than a month. He was weak but not close to dying. The claim that he survived for more than FOUR months though is a tall tale.

One day, the guards reportedly discovered that his daughter Pero (some accounts describe her as his wife) had been breastfeeding her father. She had been allowed to visit her father once a day, and was able to feed him with her breast milk, keeping him alive that way.

What happened after that is not known. Some say that Pero’s love for her father convinced the court to pardon and release Cimon. But others claim that she was given a death penalty for what she did.

Fact #4 : There Are Many Roman Charity Paintings

There are actually many paintings showing a young woman breastfeeding an old man in prison, all variations of the Roman Charity story.

These four examples from Peter Paul Rubens (1612), Jan Janssens (1620-25), Dirck Van Baburen (1623) and Pieter van Mol (1640), all predate the Jules Lefebvre painting by over 200 years.

Arguably, the Jules Lefebvre painting of Roman Charity is more famous because it was the first depiction of Pero with a baby.

The original versions of the tale did not mention that she brought her baby to prison while visiting her father. So it isn’t surprising to see that earlier works only showed Pero and Cimon alone.

Fact #5 : Roman Charity Story Predates King Louis XIV

The story that the old man was sentenced to death by starvation for stealing bread during the reign of King Louis XIV is nonsense.

The story of Roman Charity goes way back to the days of Ancient Rome. It was first told in Factotum ac dictum memorabilium (Nine Books of Memorable Acts and Sayings of the Ancient Romans) by Ancient Roman historian Valerius Maximus.

A painting in the Temple of Pietas not only depicted the scene back then, wall paintings and terracotta statutes excavated in Pompeii suggest that it was common in the first century.

As I pointed out in the previous Fact, Western artists had already painted Roman Charity hundreds of years before Jules Lefebvre, or King Louis XIV’s reign from 1643 to 1715.

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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.

He continues to devote countless hours every day writing about tech, medicine and science, in his pursuit of facts in a post-truth world.


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