Landscape painter Claude Lorrain rarely depicted scenes of everyday life. In this drawing set in central Italy, he expressed his interest in landscape by patterning the arrangement of figures on the lines of the mountainous background. In this expansive view, the jagged outlines of layered mountains echo the uneven row of workers turning the soil under an overseer's keen supervision. Pentimenti over the mountain peak at left show that Claude lowered its height to open the upper third of the sheet to sky. His spontaneity in rendering this scene suggests that it was probably sketched on the spot.
Claude used both paper and chalk to infuse the scene with his characteristic atmospheric effects. Allowing the paper to show through, he succinctly sketched in the distant landscape with black chalk to contrast with the foreground's more sharply defined pen and wash.