The present works, a pair of capricci with scenes of antique ruins, are characteristic examples of works by Gherardo Poli. In the first, a group of washerwomen scrub their laundry in a wide stone basin beneath a massive and partially collapsed vaulted ceiling. Additional small groups of figures stroll and converse amongst the ruins, which are situated along the banks of a harbor. In the companion piece, the events are far more sensational: a covered, horse-drawn carriage careens madly through architectural ruins toward the forest beyond, while wildly gesticulating figures dash to escape its path or merely pause in their routines to observe the dramatic events. The color scheme in both works is subtle, with the browns and ochres of the ruins in the Italian landscape by the brighter reds and blues of the tiny figures' costumes.
Both canvases contain elements characteristic of Poli's compositions, and are executed in typical style. The runaway carriage in the second canvas is his frequent motif, appearing in a number of separate canvases, perhaps most closely in Capricci con Rovine su fondo Marino (Casa di Risparmio, Pisa), but also in a number of other works. In addition to the carriage itself, there are numerous other similarities: the sense of contained energy in the tiny, active, gesticulating figures; the constant motion and fluttering draperies; even the way in which the horses drawing the carriage have reared up on their hind legs remains constant among Poli's compositions. The washerwomen in the first canvas appear again in one of four canvases in Poli's Capricci with architectural fantasies and statues in the Louvre, washing clothes at a fountain in a fantastical architectural setting similar to that of the present work. In both, the juxtaposition of the formerly grand, and now decaying, ruins with the mundane activities of daily life serves as a reminder of the inevitable passage of time and the ultimate decline of all great civilizations to make way for new ones. Nature, too, plays a role, as is emphasized by the trees and vines gradually overtaking the structures - even in some cases mimicking the shape of the original structures themselves, growing vertically from the vault springings.
Gherardo Poli and his brother Giuseppe were both painters active at the end of the seicento and beginning of the settecento. Gherardo is first on record as having been baptized in Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, in January of 1676. By 1706, he is listed in the Accademia Fiorentina del Disegno as 'Pittore di Animali, Pesci, Paesi ed Istorie di Cimatori' (painter of animals, fish, landscapes and histories). He may have moved to Pisa around the time of the death of Ferdinando III Medici in 1713, when the political climate in Florence was particularly unstable. Poli's style is indebted to a number of sources; his treatment of trees and other natural elements reflects his study of Northern painters such as Jan Both and Roelandt Savery, while his brushwork and imaginative architectural capricci suggests the work of Monsù Desiderio (see, for example, Vedute della piazza della Signoria a Firenze, Mondolfo collection, Rome).