The present picture is related to two works published by W.G. Constable 'Richard Wilson: A Second Addendum', Burlington Magazine, CIV, April 1962, no.709, pp.141-2, illustrated pls. 8 and 9. The smaller of these, measuring 17 x 21 in., was dated by Constable to the late 1760s, while the larger (of almost identical dimensions to the present work) he believed was executed circa 1753. This latter picture was exhibited at the Tate Gallery. Richard Wilson 1982-83, no.73, as Landscape Capriccio on the Via Aemilia, with the Temple of the Sybyl at Tivoli and the Broken Bridge at Narni, 'probably 1754'. Found to have been commissioned by Stephen Beckingham in Rome, the picture was exhibited with its companion piece Landscape Capriccio with the Tomb of the Horatii and Curiatii, and the Villa of Maecenas at Tivoli. The key difference between the exhibited version and the present work is the inscriptions on the stone tablet above the group of figures in the left hand foreground. While that in the Beckingham picture reads 'M/EMILIA/V.A. XVII' (which is presumed to be a reference to the Via Aemilia, the road from Rimini to Piacenza), the present picture is inscribed '...ONI/AFRICANO/S.P.Q.R.'. This inscription, which is also to be found on a finished chalk drawing of the subject in a private collection, is probably a reference to Scipio Africanus Magnus, the great Republican general who led the Roman armies to victory over Hannibal (see D.H. Solkin, catalogue of the exhibition, Richard Wilson, 1982-83, p.190, under no.73).
The influence of Claude in this composition is clear, and in particular his Landscape with the Flight into Egypt of 1663, which Wilson may have seen in the Roman Palace of the Colonna family (now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, in Lugano, Switzerland). Comparing Claude's picture with that commissioned by Beckingham, Professor Solkin observes 'The two pictures share in common an antique temple placed beside a central broken bridge, as well as the figures of a mother and child on horseback, though Wilson has transposed Claude's holy family into an apparently secular context' (see D.H. Solkin, op.cit., p.41).
Wilson's composition is dominated by various identifiable architectural ruins such as the Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli, the broken bridge at Narni, and what may be the medieval Torre delle Milizie, all placed together in an ideal landscape. Like Claude, Wilson uses these architectural motifs, together with the landscape, to draw the spectator's gaze into the picture and ultimately to the brilliant display of light depicted over the central horizon.