Meal Time for the Chimney Sweep by Aurelio Zingoni

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Meal Time for the Chimney Sweep by Aurelio Zingoni

Painting NameMeal Time for the Chimney Sweep
Painter NameAurelio Zingoni
Completion Date1881
Size99.7 x 76.2 cm (3' 3¼" x 30")
Current LocationPrivate collection

A child with his chimney-sweeping tools on his shoulders, the regular black clothing of a sweep, a bowl of meal and a little grin of having a break for meal after the tiresome work-hours represents a perfect, happy and satisfied embodiment of a child-sweep from the 19th century by the artist in this genre painting.

But, the current painting is not even near to the actual situations of the real child sweep in old times. They were more similar to the African slaves before the whites left the job and Africans were imported and forced to do the job.

In old times, until around the end of the 19th century, small kids were used as sweep (kids as little as 4 years old). After the new houses began to build with chimneys on them, the need of sweep rose. Though, some chimneys were as small as 9 inches in diameter and only small kids could go in there. It fell upon little children as a curse as the new requirement of little kids also refueled the bad social practice of buying kids from their parents. And this really happened in old times. If we look at today’s developed and well-mannered societies, we can’t believe in those facts, but those are the harsh truths. Well, we learn from our mistakes.

Well, this is not even the saddest case or the worst-case-scenario. There is a whole disease called “Chimney Sweeps’ Cancer” which often occurred by the harmful motes and particles of soot, smoke and sweat, which was oftentimes normal in the sweep. Moreover, a person who worked as a sweep in his childhood would live less than a normal human lifespan.

Though, the real sad thing is that children occasionally died while doing their jobs by suffocation or by the soot entering in their nose trails. That’s the real horror. Then a second child would be sent to derive the first one out and if they get lucky enough, they would come out safely and if not than both of them will die in there. Then after, people would get the sense to tear down a side of the chimney to get the dead-bodies out.

As if the danger of working in a chimney full of perilous dust was not bad enough, the treatment by their masters was also brutal and the masters would even send them in chimney which is still burning. The contemporary government had to set out a rule of not sending children in burning chimneys.

That was a tragic life for every child chimney sweep in old times without an exception. The painting Aurelio Zingoni, that’s why, doesn’t depict the child’s glittered face for his happy life.

All I can calculate is that in midst of his troublesome life, he has happened to get a companion, a friend – the dog -with whom he might have been living or sharing his food. And the time-out from his work gives him the chance to get along with his little friend and have some moments of cordiality and happiness. That could be the most sensible answer for a chimney sweep boy’s grin from the 19th century.


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