The Capitoline Wolf (Italian: Lupa Capitolina) is a bronze sculpture of a she-wolf suckling twin human infants, inspired by the legend of the founding of Rome. According to the legend, when Numitor, grandfather of the twins Romulus and Remus, was overthrown by his brother Amulius, the usurper ordered the twins to be cast into the Tiber River. They were rescued by a she-wolf who cared for them until a herdsman, Faustulus, found and raised them. The Capitoline Wolf has been housed since 1471 in the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Campidoglio (the ancient Capitoline Hill), Rome, Italy.
The age and origin of the Capitoline Wolf is a subject of controversy. The statue was long thought to be an Etruscan work of the 5th century BC, with the twins added in the late 15th century AD, probably by the sculptor Antonio Pollaiolo. However, radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dating has found that the wolf portion of the statue was likely cast between 1021 and 1153.
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.
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. The oldest is Livy‘s report of one set up at the foot of the Palatine Hill in 295 B.C. (X.23). 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 BC: “it was a gilt statue on the Capitol of a baby being given suck from the udders of a wolf.” Cicero also mentions the wolf in De Divinatione 1.20 and 2.47.
It was widely assumed that the Capitoline Wolf was 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 5th century BC, based on how the wolf’s fur was depicted. 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 BC. Winckelmann correctly identified a Renaissance origin for the twins; they were probably added in 1471 or later.
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 and cannon. 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. The results revealed with an accuracy of 95.4 percent that the sculpture was crafted between the 11th and 12th century AD.
History of the sculpture
The sculpture in Musei Capitolini
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.
The 12th-century English cleric Magister Gregorius wrote a descriptive essay De Mirabilibus 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.
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 symbolism
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 She-wolf to Siena, what becomes symbol of the town.
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. A third copy went to Rome, New York. Another ended up at North-Eastern Normal University, China, where ancient Greek and Roman history is studied.
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.
In the 2009 movie 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.
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.