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Work Landscape with She-Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Romulus et Remus et un homme vu de dos

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Grollemund Hélène

An important source of information concerning Annibale Carracci's drawing style in his Bologna years, this group study constitutes the more or less final project for the first fresco in the Romulus and Remus cycle in the great hall of the Palazzo Magnani in Bologna. Romulus and Remus Suckled by the She-Wolf is the most surprising fresco in this cycle executed by all three Carraccis, notably because of the important role played by landscape for the first time here.

The abandonment of the twins

The iconography follows Plutarch's narrative: King Amulius orders a hunter to kill the twins, but instead the latter simply abandons them to a cruel she-wolf. However, the animal not only spares them but also suckles them. In the fresco, the hunter is no more than a silhouette on the horizon to the right, while the wolf figure is more imposing and distinct. Analysis of the fresco has brought to light pentimenti and retouches to the dry paint, notably on the hunter figure which, originally painted as it was in the drawing, was later erased and moved to the horizon, thus clearing the foreground.

Preparatory drawings

There are few surviving drawings for this decorative cycle executed in 1590-1 by the three Carraccis. According to their biographer Malvasia (1616-93), they declared that "Ella è de' Carracci: l'abbiam fatta tutti noi" (This is by the Carraccis, we all made it"), but it is fairly easy to tell the three artists apart here, which is not always the case with other group drawings identified to date. In addition to the one by Annibale now in the Louvre, to Agostino's Triumph of Romulus over Acron at Windsor Castle, and Lodovico's Death of Amulius in Berlin, we should also include here the drawing with gouache highlights at Chatsworth, entitled The Battle between the Romans and the Sabines, even if the fresco is probably by Agostino. Formerly attributed to Ciro Ferri, the ensemble drawing for the fresco depicting Remus taken before Amulius, also in the Louvre, must now be credited to Agostino. Among the detail studies are a telamon in black chalk, on the back of the Windsor Castle drawing, which may be by Annibale or Agostino; a study of a seated telamon by Agostino in the Louvre; two other telamones by Annibale, also in the Louvre; and a detail of masks in red chalk at the Albertina in Vienna, again by Annibale.

Hints of Carracci's Roman style

This landscape seems indicative of Annibale's approach before he left for Rome in 1595. Already we can see his consummate skill in the rendering of landscape, evoked largely by touches of wash with, in the foreground, vigorous pen detailing, his understanding of the human body (in the walking figure) and his freedom in relation to the conventions of late Mannerism. This piece hints at the mature style of his Roman works and heralds the Farnese cycle, which in spirit anticipates the seventeenth century.


Mahon Denis, Mostra dei Carracci: disegni, Edizione Alfa, 1956
Bacou Roseline, Le XVIe siècle européen : Dessins du Louvre, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1965
Loisel Catherine, Le dessin à Bologne 1580-1620 : La réforme des trois Carraci, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1994
Benati Daniele, The Drawings of Annibale Carracci, National Gallery of Art, 1999-2000
Loisel Catherine, "Il disegno : uno strumento privilegiato per i Carracci," Gli Affreschi dei Carracci : Studi e disegni preparatori, Bologna: Palazzo Magnani, 2000, pp. 53-131
Loisel Catherine, Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques, Inventaire général des dessins italiens. Ludovico, Agostino, Annibale Carracci, forthcoming, 2004

Technical description

  • Annibale CARRACCI (Bologna, 1560-Rome, 1609)

    Landscape with She-Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus


  • Pen, brown ink and brown wash, retouched in black ink, on white paper.

    H. 23.8 cm; W. 33.8 cm

  • Unidentified collector (CFC mark surmounted by a crown in black ink); Cardinal Paolo Coccapani (1650); collection of Alfonso III d'Este (1594-1644); Este collection at Modena confiscated under the Revolution in 1796, consigned to the Museum in 1797

    INV 7535

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Bottom right, in black chalk, in handwriting found on many of the Modena drawings: annibal.