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Caritas Romana

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Jerôme Duquesnoy (attributed to Artus Quellinus the Elder)
Antwerp 1602 – Ghent 1654
Marble
87 cm
Inventory number 703

This sculpture depicts a scene from the legend of Cimon and Pero, which used to be very popular in classical antiquity. Chained by his ankle in a prison cell, the old Cimon is doomed to die by starvation. But his daughter Pero secretly breastfeeds him, restoring his strength. When the city magistrate is informed of this, he is so moved by Pero’s selfless act that he has Cimon released immediately. Henceforth Cimon would be maintained by the State so that he would never again go hungry. Pero soon became the paragon of loving devotion of a child to its parents.
The attribution of this Caritas Romana has long been in question. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of the classicist work of Jerôme Duquesnoy II. However, some art historians attribute it to the Antwerp-born sculptor Artus Quellinus the Elder.

Extra dimension

No mention is made in the original legend of Pero’s child. This element was only introduced in the 17th century to rule out any incestuous interpretation. Moreover, the infant adds an extra dimension to the story: the child, the adult Pero and the elderly Cimon represent three generations, so that the sculpture may also be interpreted as an allegory of youth and age.

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