Nicholas Turner has confirmed the attribution to Guercino on studying the drawing in the original. He relates the composition to a lost half-length picture commissioned by Marchese Bentivoglio as a gift for Cardinal Mazarin for which the artist's account book records a payment of 66 scudi on 23 August 1639 (B. Ghelfi, Il Libro dei Conti del Guercino, Venice, 1997). He further notes of the present drawing that the 'flowing dark brown washes and sparing penwork is typical of Guercino's pictorial style of drawing of the second half of the 1630s'.
Three drawings dateable to the same period and of the analogous subject of The Roman Daughter, in which a girl offers her breast to her mother, may represent an alternative proposal for the Mazarin commission (Royal Library, Windsor D. Mahon and N. Turner, op. cit., no. 187); Anonymous sale; Christie's, South Kensington, 15 December 1999, lot 28 (as Follower of Guercino); and a lost drawing known through a print by Clemente Nicoli).
Roman Charity was a popular subject for Baroque painters intrigued by the erotic possibilities. According to Valerius Maximus' Factorum et dictorum memorabilium, Cimon, an aged Roman citizen, was imprisoned and sentenced to death. While under sentence he was given no food and so was sustained only by the visits of his daughter Pero, who fed him from her breast. On hearing of this the authorities were so impressed by her filial piety that they pardoned Cimon.
The convoluted provenance of the drawings by Guercino formerly belonging to the Earls of Gainsborough, including the previously unexplained leap between the Bouverie and Noel families, was unravelled by Nicholas Turner (N. Turner, 'An unpublished drawing Guercino for Elijah in the desert fed by ravens', Master Drawings, XLIII (2005), p. 511, note 2).