Giovanni Costa - 'who as an artist is one in hundreds and as a man one in thousands', as Frederic, Lord Leighton told Walter Crane in 1872 - was the central figure in the Etruscan School of landscape painters; the name does not refer, as might be imagined, to Tuscany, but to his nickname, 'The Etruscan'. The group acquired some formal coherence in 1883, but long before this it had existed in a looser sense. Its aim was to express poetry and emotion through landscape, studied at first hand but given a distinctly abstract interpretation; a narrow rectangular format was perhaps the most obvious hallmark of the Etruscan style.
Although a number of exponents were Italian, the circle also embraced many English artists who visited or settled in Italy. Leighton, George Howard, George Heming Mason, William Blake Richmond, Walter Crane, Matthew Ridley Corbet and his wife Edith were among those associated with the movement at one date or another. There were also links with the Barbizon School in France; on visits to Paris in 1862-3 Costa worked with Corot and painted with other artists at Fontainebleau. Costa and Mason travelled together on a sketching expedition south of Rome as early as 1853, sleeping in the open air and stopping at Anzio on the coast. Costa continued to paint at Anzio and Livorno for many years. The subtle tone and the shimmering light, seen here on the water's surface through a thicket of trees, is characteristic of his later work which is imbued with an ethereal quality.