This picture is a version of a composition of which another smaller version, measuring 9 x 11½ in., is in the Tate Gallery (for which see W. Constable, Richard Wilson, London, 1953, p. 194, pl. 69 (b)). Another version of the composition, which shows a ruin rather than a bridge in the background, identified as the Temple of Apollo, signed and dated 1764, is also in the Tate Gallery (Constable, op.cit., p. 194, pl. 69a).
Lake Avernus, North-West of Naples, located in the Phelegraean (or burning fields), was without doubt the most charming of the Phlegraean lakes and was depicted by various vedutisti. To the Grand Tourists and artists of the 18th Century the area was particularly rich in classical associations. Since ancient times the caves and the volcanic activity in the area had given rise to the belief that the entrance to Hades, the underworld, was located there. Virgil's Aeneid also related how Aeneas, landing near Avernus, asked the Cumaean Sybil to prophesy his future, and was led by her into Hades to meet the ghost of his father who foretold his destiny.
Richard Wilson travelled to Italy in 1750, arriving in Venice in the autumn of that year. He remained in Italy for the next six years, predominantly based in Rome, where he seems to have arrived at the end of 1751. He visited Lake Avernus towards the end of his six-year stay in Italy, between 1754 and 1756.