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Capitoline Wolf

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Capitoline Wolf
ArtistUnknown (wolf)
Antonio del Pollaiuolo (twins)
YearEtruscan, 5th century BC or 11th–12th centuries AD (wolf)
Late 15th century AD (twins)
Dimensions75 cm × 114 cm (30 in × 45 in)
LocationMusei Capitolini, Rome, Italy

The Capitoline Wolf (Italian: Lupa Capitolina) is a bronze sculpture depicting a scene from the legend of the founding of Rome. The sculpture shows a she-wolf suckling the mythical twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. According to the legend, when King Numitor, grandfather of the twins, was overthrown by his brother Amulius in Alba Longa, the usurper ordered them to be cast into the Tiber River. They were rescued by a she-wolf that cared for them until a herdsman, Faustulus, found and raised them.

The age and origin of the Capitoline Wolf are controversial. The statue was long thought to be an Etruscan work of the fifth century BC,[1] with the twins added in the late 15th century AD, probably by sculptor Antonio del Pollaiuolo.[2] However, radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dating in the 21st century has suggested that the wolf portion of the statue may have been cast between 1021 and 1153,[3] though the results are inconsistent, and there is yet no consensus for a revised dating. In a conference on this theme, most academics continued to support an ancient Etruscan origin.[citation needed] An analysis of the metal suggests that it contains lead from a source not known to have operated during medieval times.[4]

The image of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus has been a symbol of Rome since ancient times, and one of the most recognizable icons of ancient mythology.[5] The sculpture has been housed since 1471 in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Campidoglio (the ancient Capitoline Hill), Rome, Italy, and many replicas are in various places around the world.



The sculpture is somewhat larger than life-size, standing 75 cm (30 in) high and 114 cm (45 in) long. The wolf is depicted in a tense, watchful pose, with alert ears and glaring eyes, which are watching for danger. By contrast, the human twins – executed in a completely different style – are oblivious to their surroundings, absorbed by their suckling.[6]

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. Livy reports in his Roman history that a statue was erected at the foot of the Palatine Hill in 295 BC.[7] 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 65 BC: "it was a gilt statue on the Capitol of a baby being given suck from the udders of a wolf."[8] Cicero also mentions the wolf in De Divinatione 1.20 and 2.47.[9]

The Capitoline Wolf was widely assumed to be the very sculpture described by Cicero, due to the presence of damage to the sculpture's paw, which was believed to correspond to the lightning strike of 65 BC. The 18th-century German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann attributed the statue to an Etruscan maker in the fifth century BC, based on how the wolf's fur was depicted.[10] It was first attributed to the Veiian artist Vulca, who decorated the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; later scholars attribute it to an unknown Etruscan artist of around 480 or 470 BC. Winckelmann correctly identified a Renaissance origin for the twins; they were probably added in 1471 AD or later.[11]

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 the style of the statue was attributable to the Carolingian art 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. These views were largely disregarded, though, and had been forgotten by the 20th century.[11]

In 2006, Italian art historian Anna Maria Carruba and archaeologist 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. This technique was not used in Classical antiquity; 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 widely used in the Middle Ages to mould bronze items that needed a high level of rigidity, such as bells and cannons. Like Braun, Carruba argues that the damage to the wolf's paw resulted from an error in the moulding process. In addition, La Regina, former superintendent of Rome's archaeological heritage, argues that the sculpture's artistic style is more akin to Carolingian and Romanesque art than that of the ancient world.[11]

Radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dating were carried out at the University of Salento in February 2007 to resolve the question. The results revealed with an accuracy of 95.4% that the sculpture was crafted between the 11th and 12th centuries AD.[citation needed] A 2019 radiocarbon study based on organic residues in the casting cores recovered from the inner part of the statue claims to "firmly anchor the statue to the XI-XII centuries CE, in the Middle Ages."[12]

However, a recent study by John Osborne at the British School at Rome concluded that the radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dates were totally inconsistent. He pointed out that metal from which the wolf is made is of the Etruscan type, using copper from Sardinia, and that there is no sign of the adulteration common in medieval times. On the balance of probabilities, Osborne argues that the wolf should be considered Etruscan.[13][4]

History of the sculpture

The sculpture in Musei Capitolini

When the sculpture was first erected is unclear, but a number of medieval references mention 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.[14]

The 12th-century English cleric Magister Gregorius wrote a descriptive essay De Mirabilibus Urbis Romae[15] 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 Lateran 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.[16]

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 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.

Capitoline Wolf in Hamilton Gardens, Hamilton, New Zealand

Modern use and symbolism

Capitoline she-wolf - Eden Park, Cincinnati - DSC03903.JPG
Capitoline she-wolf in Eden Park, Cincinnati, Ohio
Capitoline Wolf at Siena Duomo. According to a legend Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, two sons of Remus. When they fled Rome, they took the statue of the She-wolf to Siena, which became the symbol of the town.

The governments of Italy and the mayors of Rome donated copies of the statue to various places around the world. Benito Mussolini continued this practice and especially favoured the image.[17] 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.[18] Another replica was given to the city of Rome, Georgia, the same year.[17] A third copy went to Rome, New York, in 1956 by Alfonso Felici, a veteran of World War II.[17] Another ended up at North-Eastern Normal University, China, where ancient Greek and Roman history is studied.[citation needed]

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.

It was used as the logo for Artie Ripp's record label Family Productions, which in 1971 released Billy Joel's first album as a solo artist, Cold Spring Harbor. Due to contractual obligations, it continued to appear on numerous Joel albums even after he was subsequently signed to Columbia Records.[19]

The programme of conservation undertaken in the 1990s resulted in an exhibition devoted to the Lupa Capitolina and her iconography.[20]

Anthony Mann's 1964 epic film The Fall of the Roman Empire prominently features an enlarged replica prop of the Capitoline Wolf as a republican symbol at the back of the Senate House, where, historically, the altar and statue of Victory would have stood.[21]

The 1976 TV series I, Claudius also features the statue in its depiction of the interior of the Senate House.

In the 2009 film Agora, set in 5th-century Alexandria, the Capitoline Wolf—complete with the del Pollaiolo twins—can be seen in the prefect's palace. This is visible in the scene before Hypatia's capture, directly behind her character.

In Rick Riordan's The Son of Neptune, Lupa is the wolf that trains all demigods who wish to enter Camp Jupiter. She trains Percy Jackson and is mentioned that she trained Jason Grace also. It is also possible that she trained Frank Zhang, Hazel Levesque, and Reyna Avila Ramirez-Arellano. Although she is stern and tough, she still has a soft side.

In the first episode of the American television programme The Addams Family, a mirror-image sculpture of the Capitoline Wolf is on display in the Addams's living room. It can be seen standing atop a table, just to the right of the main staircase.

The Boston Latin School uses an image on the cover of their agenda book as well as being the official school emblem.

The Capitoline Wolf is used in Romania and Moldova as a symbol of the Latin origin of its inhabitants and in some major cities there are replicas of the original statue given as a gift from Italy at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Capitoline Wolf is reimagined in Look at Me (new Capitoline Wolf), a 2011 installation by Polish artist Paweł Wocial.[citation needed]

See also



  1. ^ (Lacus Curtius website) Rodolfo Lanciani, Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries ch. X; Musei Capitolini website Archived 19 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine; Capitoline Museums:Exhibition "The Capitoline She-Wolf", June-October 2000 Archived 16 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine; Lupa Capitolina Elettronica A site devoted to the Capitoline Wolf (in progress)
  2. ^ "Sculpture" . The Oxford Encyclopedia of Classical Art and Architecture. Ed. John B. Hattendorf. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  3. ^ Lorenzi, Rossella (25 June 2012). "Rome Icon Actually Younger Than the City". DNews. Discovery Communications. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  4. ^ a b Osborne, John (2020-07-09). Rome in the Eighth Century: A History in Art. Cambridge University Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-1-108-83458-2.
  5. ^ Wiseman, Timothy (1999). Remus. Un mito di Roma (in Italian). Quasar. p. xiii. ISBN 978-8871401485.
  6. ^ Helen Gardner, Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya. Gardner's Art Through the Ages, p. 241. Wadsworth, 2004. ISBN 0-534-64095-8
  7. ^ Livy Ab Urbe Condita Book X ch.23
  8. ^ In Catilinam 3.19.
  9. ^ (L. Richardson Jr., "Ficus Navia").
  10. ^ Francis Haskell, Nicholas Penny. Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500–1900, p. 241. Yale University Press, 1981. ISBN 0-300-02641-2
  11. ^ a b c Adriano La Regina, "Roma, l'inganno della Lupa è "nata" nel Medioevo. La Repubblica. 17 November 2006
  12. ^ Calcagnile, Lucio; D'Elia, Marisa; Maruccio, Lucio; Braione, Eugenia; Celant, Alessandra; Quarta, Gianluca (15 September 2019). "Solving an historical puzzle: Radiocarbon dating the Capitoline she wolf". Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms. 455: 209–212. Bibcode:2019NIMPB.455..209C. doi:10.1016/j.nimb.2019.01.008. S2CID 104414775.
  13. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Dating the Capitoline Wolf". YouTube.
  14. ^ Rodolfo Lanciani, New Tales of Old Rome, p. 38. Ayer Publishing, 1968. ISBN 0-405-08727-6
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Lupa etiam quondam singulis mammis aquam abluendis manibus emittebat, sed nunc fractis pedibus a loco suo divulsa est
  17. ^ a b c Laskow, Sarah (16 October 2015). "Neither Rome, GA, Nor Rome, NY, Could Handle a Statue with Wolf Teats". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  18. ^ Federal Writers' Project (1943). Cincinnati, a Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors. Best Books on. p. 280. ISBN 9781623760519. Retrieved 2013-05-04.
  19. ^ White, Timothy (September 4, 1980). "Billy Joel Is Angry". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  20. ^ Capitoline Museums: Exhibition "The Capitoline She-Wolf", June–October 2000 Archived 16 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Allen M. Ward, "History, Ancient and Modern, in The Fall of the Roman Empire", in Martin M. Winkler (ed.), The Fall of the Roman Empire (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 51–88 [87–88].


  • Lombardi, G. (2002). "A petrographic study of the casting core of the Lupa Capitolina". Archaeometry. 44 (4): 601ff. doi:10.1111/1475-4754.t01-1-00088. (X-ray diffractometry, thermal analyses, chemistry and thin sections identify the casting site in the lower Tiber valley.)

Further reading

  • Carcopino, J. (1925). La louve du capitole (in French). Paris: Les Belles Lettres. OL 16519753M. (This paper initiated modern research into the sculpture's history.)