Penry Williams settled in Rome in 1827 and remained there for the rest of his life, returning to London only for occasional visits. His Italian peasant genre subjects were particularly popular with British collectors in the 1820s and 1830s. He was an especially prolific painter of Roman and Campagna scenes, of which this is one of the earliest examples. Frequently returning to the same subjects, he painted several versions of such famous architectural sights as the Temple of Vesta and the Ponte Rotto. His narrative details appealed to the nineteenth-century taste for anecdotal or picturesque incident.
A framed hand-inscribed manuscript is also sold with this picture which reads:
'The subject of the picture is the Mass For The Reapers during the Harvest in the Campagna of Rome. The custom of having a moveable Altar erected upon an Oxen Cart is used in remote parts of the Campagna; when the distance may be ten or fifteen miles from any town, the men cannot be spared on a Sunday to to go to their Mass, so the Priest goes out to them for the men remain on the spot during the whole time of Harvest and sleep in their tents; many of them get the malaria fever, some die of it. I have shewn one person under a tent suffering from fever. The women do not work at the Corn Harvest, and therefore are they in their gay costumes, as they only go out on the Sunday for the Mass and maybe to carry provisions & to their husbands. On the right-hand side of the picture is shewn the Corn-floor where they tread (or thresh) the corn with oxen. In the immediate neighbourhood of Rome they use horses for this purpose, but in the mountain districts they do it with oxen quite in the old way, as it is mentioned in the Bible;
'Thou shalt not muzzle the oxen when he treadeth out the corn'
Deut. Chap XXV, Ver:IV.
The man leaning on his horse is a steward - the one with his gun and dogs is an amateur sportsman, they generally go out of Rome on a Sunday. - The scene represented is a view a little beyond Tivoli, in the Valley of the Aqueducts (so called) part of the Claudian aqueduct is seen in the distance.'