This bird's eye view of the Roman Forum was executed by the young architect Fontaine when he was a pensionnaire at the Académie de France in Rome after gaining second prize in the Grand Prix d'Architecture in 1785. Fontaine executed two other large views of Rome, both taken from Monte Mario, one representing the present-day Rome (Christie's, Paris, 23 March 2006, lot 331), the other Ancient Rome.
In the present drawing, Fontaine has represented with great accuracy the different monuments adorning the Forum. In the foreground is the Arch of Titus, on the left, the Farnese Gardens laid out in the mid-16th Century for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (at the left edge of the drawing are the twin pavilions of the aviary on the highest level of the garden), and then, clockwise, the Church of S. Maria Liberatrice, the remains of the Temple of Saturn (the colonnade behind the Arch of Septimius Severus and the Temple of Castor and Pollux), the Temple of Castor and Pollux, or the Dioscuri (the three-columned ruin in the centre), the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Church of S. Pietro in Carcere, also called the Mamertine Prison (behind the arch, on the right), the Church of SS. Luca e Martina with its large dome, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, which is also partly the Church of S. Lorenzo in Miranda (the building with the portico of columns at the front), the Temple of Romulus, which was incorporated into the Church of SS. Cosma e Damiano (of which one can see only the very top), and the large arches of the Basilica of Maxentius. Beyond the Arch of Septimius Severus, are the steps leading up to the Piazza del Campidoglio and the Palazzo Senatorio with its tower.
Fontaine has included many picturesque details and figures, including a procession of priests entering the avenue of trees in the centre. With its grisaille technique, and its minutiae of details, combined with the artist's great skill in depicting light and atmosphere, this spectacular drawing can be compared to the views of Rome by Lusieri, Hackert (see Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia and Houston, 2000, no. 362), Grandjean (see his views of Roman villas, in Views of Rome from the Thomas Ashby Collection in the Vatican Library, London, 1988, nos. 75-7), and Thomas Jones.