"During his second trip to Italy in 1842, Cole visited many of the famous Greek and Roman sites in Sicily. He was especially struck by the juxtaposition of the ruins of civilization with the eternal features of the natural landscape. At Taormina, Cole saw the remains of the ancient theater set against the awesome backdrop of the volcanic Mount Etna. Accompanied by the English artist Samuel J. Ainsley, Cole ascended the great Sicilian volcano. In two articles based on his Sicilian travels, published in the Knickerbocker in 1844, he described his impressions as he reached the volcano's summit: 'It was a glorious sight which spread before our eyes! We took a hasty glance into the gloomy crater of the volcano, and throwing ourselves on the warm ashes, gazed in wonder and astonishment...Sicily lay at our feet. As the sun rose, the great pyramidal shadow of Aetna was cast across the island, and all beneath it rested in twilight gloom'
Cole Returned to the United States in July 1842, and over the course of the next six years, he painted at least six known versions of the volcano." (E.M. Kornhauser, et al., New World. Creating American Art, exhibition catalogue, Hamburg, Germany, 2007, p. 133) In addition to the present work, other paintings of the subject are in the collections of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia.