The Renaissance practise of painting on stone began in Rome when Sebastiano del Piombo rediscovered this technique, which is recorded in antiquity, for the The Birth of the Virgin (on slate; Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome). Many artists of the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular in Rome, Florence and Verona, used stone supports as an aid to creating pictorial space. This use of marble, slate or pietra paesina supports also appealed to collectors' taste for the unusual and exotic. Artists such as Ottino, Ridolfi, Filippo Napoletano and Tempesta carefully selected the stone for their supports, and skillfully used the natural pattern of the rock to enhance their compositions - in this case, to suggest the rolling dunes and scattered grasses of a battlefield, and create a sense of depth of the battle scene.
The subject of this picture, a battle between soldiers in classical and orientalised dress, with a group of war elephants in the background, is probably the Battle of Gaugamela of 331 BC, which pitted Alexander the Great against Darius III of Persia.