Hubert Robert's classical education at the prestigious Jesuit-run College de Navarre made him an able Latinist and inspired his youthful fascination with the ancient world. However, it was his journey to Rome in 1754 in the entourage of the newly-appointed French Ambassador to the Holy See - the Comte de Stainville, later Duc de Choiseul - that introduced him first-hand to those decaying monuments of the past that would become his lifelong artistic preoccupation and win him the sobriquet 'Robert des Ruines'. He remained in Rome for eleven years, and through his unofficial attachment to the French Academy met important collectors and artists, including Fragonard, the great Italian engraver, Piranesi, and the painter of ruins, Panini, who profoundly influenced his work. He was introduced to the Abbé de Saint-Non, an antiquarian who in 1760 commissioned him and Fragonard to make drawn copies of the Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities that Saint-Non later reproduced in his de luxe guidebooks of Italian cities and their works of art.
Although Robert, like virtually all Europeans, had never been to Egypt, he would have been able to study important Egyptian monuments that had been brought to Rome, as well as Egyptianizing structures erected in the city during the late years of Roman Empire. Several of Robert's Roman views dating from the late 1750s are enlivened with Egyptian motifs - the Sphinxes, fragments of pharaonic sculpture, obelisks and pyramids that were fast becoming the standard repertory of European 'Egyptomania'. In his later work he often moved these ancient ruins to centre-stage, populating these imaginary scenes with a variety of colourful contemporary figures. The present work is a spirited example of this genre. Robert would have known one actual pyramid in Rome, the relatively small Caius Cestius, built in the reign of Augustus, which may have been the inspiration for the present work. The scene is enlivened by a group of looters who are robbing the pyramid of its treasures, and frightening their horses in the process.