Confirmed:Capitoline Wolf is Medieval, not Etruscan

The Capitoline Wolf, she doesn't look a day over 1000The bronze sculpture of a she-wolf nursing the infants Romulus and Remus that is the star of tourist stall t-shirts all over Rome is not the masterpiece of Etruscan metalwork it has been reputed to be since the 18th century. The latest radiocarbon dating performed on organic residue from the casting process confirms that La Lupa, iconic symbol of Rome, was made in the 11th or 12th century, not the 5th or 6th century B.C.

The early history of the wolf is nebulous. It’s possible that she’s a copy of a genuine antique piece that once stood guard in front of the Lateran Palace, but that’s speculation based on descriptions of such a sculpture going back as far as the 10th century. The Capitoline Wolf we know today enters the historical record in 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated it and several genuine ancient bronzes to the Roman people. They were moved to Palazzo Dei Conservatori on the Capitoline, and would form the core of the new Capitoline Museum collection. It appears that the twins, probably the work of Florentine Old Master Antonio Pollaiolo, were added to the she-wolf around this time.

1960 Rome Olympics logoThere’s no controversy surrounding the Renaissance dating of Romulus and Remus, but the wolf’s symbolic power and sculptural quality has invested it with antiquity, whether it be Etruscan, Italian Greek or Roman. It was Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a German art historian, archaeologist and pioneer in the study of Greek, Etruscan and Greco-Roman art, who classified the wolf as Etruscan in his 1764 masterpiece The History of Art in Antiquity. According to Winckelmann, the curls and textures of the she-wolf’s pelt marked her as Etruscan; see the Chimera of Arezzo, a genuine 5th century B.C. Etruscan sculpture, for an example of that style.

Although other scholars contested Winckelmann’s classification and suggested far later production dates, the Capitoline Wolf’s ancient origin, be it Etruscan, Roman or Greek, was popularly assumed to be true until 1996 when art historian Anna Maria Carruba was assigned to restore the bronze. She was the first person allowed to fully examine the sculpture in detail, and she found that it was cast in one complete piece using the lost wax method. The ancients cast bronze sculptures in pieces and then fused them together. This method allowed them to make more elaborate pieces with no risk of total failure. Single-piece casting was a medieval technique, used to produce objects like bells and cannon that needed a reliably rigid structure to function properly.

Roman politicians weren’t thrilled with this discovery. It took years of discussion before scientific dating of the she-wolf was allowed, then more years before the results were published.

“The new dating ranges between 1021 and 1153,” said Lucio Calcagnile, who carried out radiocarbon tests at the University of Salento’s Center for Dating and Diagnostics.

Using accelerator mass spectrometry, the researchers extracted, analyzed and radiocarbon dated organic samples from the casting process. The results revealed with an accuracy of 95.4 percent that the sculpture was crafted between the 11th and 12th century AD.

16 thoughts on “Confirmed:Capitoline Wolf is Medieval, not Etruscan

  1. “Ommigod!” is a locution that I scrupulously avoid – or at least save for extreme occasions. I knew that questions had been raised, but… but…but… I am now busy redeploying. “If the Capitoline She-Wolf” is medieval, that makes it an even more impressive testimony to… something or other!” Which is absolutely true, once I work out what the “something or other” is. By the way, I never quite realized how sweetly dated the 1960 Rome Olympics emblem looked. Yet another impressive testimony to…something or other!

    1. 😆 Well said! I vote that the first something or other is an impressive testimony to artistic virtuosity and the power of ancient symbolism even during a period when the population was in constant, precipitous decline and the grand urban structures were trodden by more hooves than feet.

  2. I had seen something to this effect a few years ago. Perhaps it was when they realized the casting process was wrong.

    I think its kinda neat not being cast 400 years earlier. The middle ages were not as glorious as the decline of the empire. In my opinion making replicas or copies of the past glory is fascinating. Its a shame we don’t have her whole story.

    I still love the wolf. She will always be my Roma

    1. I love her too. She’s a magnificent work of art that was created in a time of immense hardship for Rome. Her more recent extraction doesn’t diminish her at all in my eyes.

  3. So it’s not an Etruscan masterpiece. But is it now a medieval masterpiece, or is it a worthless fake?

  4. This demonstrates how popular belief and scientific data conflict when it come to dating material. That is why it is important for any research to be conducted objectively. I know that when a symbolic emblem of national history such as La Lupa is questioned that it can call cause political debates and public intervention, but the truth about history is more important to preserving national history.

  5. A long tradition says that the Capitoline Wolf was on view in a porch at the papal palace, the Lateran complex in Rome, already in the early Middle Ages—-a feature so famous that Charlemagne (768-814) copied it at his palace complex in Aachen in order to identify his complex as “like” that of Pope Leo III (795-816) in Rome, or better, as like the palace that the Emperor Constantine had providied the popes of Rome in the early fourth century. This is an old argument, accepted by most medievalists: it goes back at least to R. Krautheimer, “The Carolingian Revival of Early Christian Architecture,” __The Art Bulletin__, 24(1942). The “She-Wolf” at Aachen appears to have actually been a she-bear, a spolium, that is, a Gallo-Roman bronze sculpture of late antiquity pressed to serve at Aachen. Does it show that a wolf existed at the Lateran in the late eighth and early ninth century? Is the Capitoline Wolf, now known to be a Romanesque sculpture, related to an early medieval wolf at the Lateran? Or are the art historians just spinning tales here?

  6. actually it was in 5th century B.C. for your info! Get your facts right plz and in Italian its Lupa Capitolina XD

  7. “When Rhea Silvia, princess and virgin, came down to the Tiber
    Just to fetch water, a god seized her and that is the way
    Mars begat himself sons, a pair of twins whom a she wolf
    Suckled. Today a proud Rome claims to be queen of the world…”

  8. “And thou, the thunder-stricken nurse of Rome!
    ⁠She-wolf! whose brazen-imaged dugs impart
    ⁠The milk of conquest yet within the dome
    ⁠Where, as a monument of antique art,
    ⁠Thou standest:—Mother of the mighty heart,
    ⁠Which the great Founder sucked from thy wild teat,
    ⁠Scorched by the Roman Jove’s ethereal dart,
    ⁠And thy limbs black with lightning—dost thou yet
    Guard thine immortal cubs, nor thy fond charge forget?

    Thou dost;—but all thy foster-babes are dead—
    ⁠The men of iron; and the World hath reared
    ⁠Cities from out their sepulchres: men bled
    ⁠In imitation of the things they feared,
    ⁠And fought and conquered, and the same course steered,
    ⁠At apish distance; but as yet none have,
    ⁠Nor could, the same supremacy have neared,
    ⁠Save one vain Man, who is not in the grave—
    But, vanquished by himself, to his own slaves a slave—”

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