BSR Online Lecture | Dating the Capitoline Wolf


John Osborne (Carleton)

This event will take place via Zoom and requires advance registration. Please click here to reserve your place.

Long thought to be an example of bronze sculpture of the fourth or fifth centuries BCE, the famous statue of the she-wolf now displayed in Rome’s Capitoline Museum has caused considerable controversy in recent years due to claims that it is not an ‘ancient’ work at all, but rather a product of the central Middle Ages, most likely the eleventh or twelfth century. Needless to say, such a shift in date of some 1600 years, if accurate, constitutes a proverbial ‘spanner in the works’ for the practice of connoisseurship, and thus a revised dating poses much broader questions for art historical scholarship. This lecture will look at the technical evidence on which this claim for a medieval date has been advanced, and also assess other factors, primarily historical documentation for the statue’s medieval presence outside the Lateran palace in Rome. Given that advances in scientific understanding mean that ‘technical’ data of this sort is becoming increasingly available, consideration will also be given to how such evidence should be both assessed and incorporated into dating methodology.

John Osborne is a cultural historian with broad research interests in early medieval Italy and a special focus on the material culture of the city of Rome. His publications cover topics as varied as the medieval use of the Roman catacombs, the fragmentary mural paintings from excavated churches such as San Clemente and S. Maria Antiqua, 17th-century antiquarian drawings of medieval monuments, the medieval understanding and use of Rome’s heritage of ancient buildings and statuary, and cultural transmission between Western Europe and Byzantium. He has a long connection to the British School, stemming from his days as a doctoral student at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London: appointed to a Rome Scholarship in 1978-79, elected as an Honorary Fellow in 2006, and more recently the holder of a Balsdon Fellowship in 2018, this last leading to his latest book, Rome in the Eighth Century: a history in art, published last summer by Cambridge University Press in the BSR’s ‘Studies’ series. He is currently Research Professor and Dean Emeritus at Carleton University in Ottawa, as well as an Honorary Research Fellow at the Courtauld.