The Via Nomentana is an ancient Roman road on the outskirts of Rome. This view shows the Temple of Bacchus and two important early Christian churches, Santa Costanza, a circular mausoleum built in honour of the Emperor Constantine's daughters, Costantia and Helena, in the fourth century, and Sant'Agnese, which is situated above an extensive catacomb.
Francis Towne, probably trained at Shipley's Academy in the Strand, London, alongside Ozias Humphrey, Richard Cosway and William Paris, however he spent most of his life in his native Exeter, making occasional trips to Wales and the Lake District. In the autumn of 1780, he travelled to Rome via Geneva and made a large number of watercolour sketches, carefully noting time and light conditions. These became the basis of later oil paintings executed in his studio. A watercolour sketch of ruins by the Via Nomentana in one of Towne's albums in the British Museum, is signed and dated 12 December 1780 with extensive notes verso, detailing the exact location. It appears that this picture, executed in England twenty-one years later, was based on this type of on-the-spot drawing. Few oils by Towne are currently known, although he executed about fifty in his lifetime and when he died in 1816, twenty-six were in his London house.