After studying with Giovanni Paolo Panini, Joli began work as a scene painter in Modena and Perugia. A move to Venice in 1735 brought him into contact with Canaletto, and encouraged him to develop into a gifted vedute painter. Joli travelled widely throughout Europe and had many enthusiastic patrons in England, Germany, Spain and Italy.
In 1754 he returned to Venice, where he was elected a founder-member of the Venetian Academy. He was however, lured to Naples soon after, where he remained for the rest of his life, becoming the Court Painter to Charles VII (from 1759 Charles III of Spain), and the present picture dates from this period. Joli here depicts the moment when Alexander the Great, having landed in Asia Minor, visits the tomb of of his hero, Achilles. Joli imagines the scene in the setting of a vast palace, with numerous classical sculptures. He departs from the Alexandrian legend in showing a group of soldiers actually opening the tomb. Joli returned to this subject on a number of occasions, most notably in a version painted for the Royal palace at Caserta.