Capitoline Wolf

Capitoline Wolf


title = Capitoline Wolf
artist =
year = 13th and late 15th century AD or c. 500 BC-480 BC
type = Bronze
height = 75
city = Rome
museum = Musei Capitolini
The bronze Capitoline Wolf in the Museo Nuovo in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Campidoglio (the ancient Capitoline Hill) —where it has been housed since 1473 — is one of the icons of the founding of Rome. When the twins' father Numitor was overthrown by his brother Amulius, according to the founding myth, he ordered them to be cast into the Tiber. They were rescued by a she-wolf who cared for them until a herdsman, Faustulus, found and raised them.

Although long thought to be an Etruscan work of the 5th century BCE, [ [*.html (Lacus Curtius website) Rodolfo Lanciani, "Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries" ch. X] ; [ Musei Capitolini website] ; [ Capitoline Museums:Exhibition "The Capitoline She-Wolf", June-October 2000] ; [ Lupa Capitolina Elettronica] A site devoted to the Capitoline Wolf (in progress)] with the twins added in the late 15th century, probably by the sculptor Antonio Pollaiuolo, ["Sculpture" . "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Classical Art and Architecture." Ed. John B. Hattendorf. Oxford University Press, 2007.] radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dating has found that it was probably manufactured in the 13th century CE; this result, which undercuts the sculpture's iconic significance, is still contested (see below).


The sculpture is somewhat larger than life-size, standing 75 cm high and 114 cm long. The wolf is depicted in a tense, watchful pose, with alert ears and glaring eyes watching for danger. By contrast, the human twins - executed in a completely different style - are oblivious to their surroundings, absorbed by their suckling. [Helen Gardner, Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya. "Gardner's art through the ages", p. 241. Wadsworth, 2004. ISBN 0534640958]

Attribution and dating

The she-wolf from the legend of Romulus and Remus was regarded as a symbol of Rome from ancient times. Several ancient sources refer to statues depicting the wolf suckling the twins. Pliny the Elder mentions the presence in the Roman Forum of a statue of a she-wolf that was "a miracle proclaimed in bronze nearby, as though she had crossed the Comitium while Attus Navius was taking the omens" . Cicero also mentions a statue of the she-wolf as one of a number of sacred objects on the Capitoline that had been inauspiciously struck by lightning in the year 65 BCE: "it was a gilt statue on the Capitol of a baby being given suck from the udders of a wolf." [ [ "In Catilinam" 3.19.] ] Cicero also mentions the wolf in "De Divinatione" 1.20 and 2.47. [ ( [ L. Richardson Jr., "Ficus Navia"] ).]

It was widely assumed that the Capitoline Wolf was the sculpture described by Cicero, due to the presence of damage to the sculpture's paw that was believed to correspond to the lightning strike of 65 BCE. The 18th-century German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann attributed the statue to an Etruscan maker in the 5th century BCE, based on how the wolf's fur was depicted. [Francis Haskell, Nicholas Penny. "Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900", p. 241. Yale University Press, 1981. ISBN 0300026412] It was first attributed to the Veiian artist Vulca, who decorated the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, and then re-attributed to an unknown Etruscan artist of approximately 480-470 BCE. Winckelmann correctly identified a Renaissance origin for the twins; they were probably added in 1471 or later.Adriano La Regina, " [ Roma, l'inganno della Lupa è "nata" nel Medioevo] ". "La Repubblica". 17 November 2006]

During the 19th century a number of researchers questioned Winckelmann's dating of the bronze. August Emil Braun, the secretary of the Archaeological Institute of Rome, proposed in 1854 that the damage to the wolf's paw had been caused by an error during casting. Wilhelm Fröhner, the Conservator of the Louvre, stated in 1878 that style of the statue was attributable to the Carolingian period rather than the Etruscan, and in 1885 Wilhelm von Bode also stated that he was of the view that the statue was most likely a medieval work. However, these views were largely disregarded and had been forgotten by the 20th century.

In 2006 the Italian art historian Anna Maria Carruba and the Etruscologist Adriano La Regina contested the traditional dating of the wolf on the basis of an analysis of the casting technique. Carruba had been given the task of restoring the sculpture in 1997, enabling her to examine how it had been made. She observed that the statue had been cast in a single piece using a variation of the lost-wax casting technique that was not used in ancient times; ancient Greek and Roman bronzes were typically constructed from multiple pieces, a method that facilitated high quality castings with less risk than would be involved in casting the entire sculpture at once. Single-piece casting was, however, widely used in medieval times to mould bronze items that needed a high level of rigidity, such as bells. Carruba argues, like Braun, that the damage to the wolf's paw had resulted from an error in the moulding process. In addition, La Regina, who is the state superintendent of Rome's cultural heritage, argues that the sculpture's artistic style is more akin to Carolingian and Romanesque art than that of the ancient world.

Radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dating was carried out at the University of Salento in February 2007 to resolve the question. Although in July 2008 La Regina announced that the results of the tests had produced a "very precise indication in the 13th century", [Adriano La Regina, " [ La lupa del Campidoglio è medievale la prova è nel test al carbonio] ". "La Repubblica". 9 July 2008] the problem of the dating of the statue is far from being solved. The official results of the investigation will be disclosed not before the end of 2008. [ [ Ma sulla Lupa si discute ancora.] "La Repubblica". 10 July 2008]

History of the sculpture

It is unclear when the sculpture was first erected, but there are a number of medieval references to a "wolf" standing in the Pope's Lateran Palace. In the 10th century "Chronicon" of Benedict of Soracte, the monk chronicler writes of the institution of a supreme court of justice "in the Lateran palace, in the place called the Wolf, viz, the mother of the Romans." Trials and executions "at the Wolf" are recorded from time to time until 1438. [Rodolfo Lanciani, "New Tales of Old Rome", p. 38. Ayer Publishing, 1968. ISBN 0405087276]

The twelfth-century English cleric Magister Gregorius wrote a descriptive essay "De Mirabilibus Urbis Romae" [G. McN. Rushforth, "Magister Gregorius de Mirabilibus Urbis Romae: A New Description of Rome in the Twelfth Century", "The Journal of Roman Studies" 9 (1919, pp. 14-58), p. 28f. Magister Gregorius' description seems independent of the well-known topography "Mirabilia Urbis Romae".] and recorded in an appendix three pieces of sculpture he had neglected: one was the Wolf in the portico at the principal entrance to the Vatican Palace. He mentions no twins, for he noted that she was set up as if stalking a bronze ram that was nearby, which served as a fountain. The wolf had also served as a fountain, Magister Gregorius thought, but it had been broken off at the feet and moved to where he saw it. ["Lupa etiam quondam singulis mammis aquam abluendis manibus emittebat, sed nunc fractis pedibus a loco suo divulsa est"]

The present-day Capitoline Wolf could not have been the sculpture seen by Benedict and Gregorius, if its newly attributed age is accepted, though it is conceivable that it could have been a replacement for an earlier (now lost) depiction of the Roman wolf. In December 1471 Pope Sixtus IV ordered the present sculpture to be transferred to the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline Hill, and the twins were added some time around then. The Capitoline Wolf joined a number of other genuinely ancient sculptures transferred at the same time, to form the nucleus of the Capitoline Museum.

Modern use and symbology

The image was favored by Benito Mussolini, who cast himself as the founder of the "New Rome". To encourage American goodwill, he sent several copies of the Capitoline Wolf to U.S. cities. In 1929 he sent one replica for a Sons of Italy national convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was switched for another one in 1931, which still stands in Eden Park, Cincinnati. Another replica was given by Mussolini to the city of Rome, Georgia, the same year. [It stands in front of Rome's City Hall [ "A gift of ancient Rome to new Rome"] . In its first years, though it was appreciated by a minority as a work of art, when important events were scheduled in the City Auditorium, the twins were diapered and the wolf was modestly draped. When Italy declared war in 1940, threats against the sculpture resulted in its being warehoused for safe-keeping.] A third copy went to New York City.

The Capitoline Wolf was used on both the emblem and the poster for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. The Roman football club A.S. Roma uses it in its emblem as well.

The programme of conservation undertaken in the 1990s resulted in an exhibition devoted to the "Lupa Capitolina" and her iconography. [ [ Capitoline Museums:Exhibition "The Capitoline She-Wolf", June-October 2000] ]

ee also

*Capitoline Wolf statues in cities


*Lombardi, G. "A petrographic study of the casting core of the Lupa Capitolina", "Archaeometry" 44.4 (November 2002) p 601ff. X-ray diffractometry, thermal analyses, chemistry and thin sections identify the casting site in the lower Tiber valley.

Further reading

*Carcopino, Jérôme, "La louve du capitole" (Paris) 1925. This initiated modern research into the sculpture's history.


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