Claude Lorrain bathed this view of Tivoli in shimmering, translucent washes whose tonal range represents a continuum of light and shadow that both defines and dematerializes form. Characteristically, he silhouetted forms against expanses of golden Italian light. The pen-and-ink study on the verso may have been made first as a compositional outline for the drawing on the recto.
More than thirty views of Tivoli, one of Claude's favorite subjects, survive. As always, he focused on the landscape rather than village architecture. He drew this study from nature, rather than composing it in the studio, and he may have used it in preparing a painting.
According to a German painter colleague, Joachim von Sandrart, Tivoli played a role in Claude's decision to paint en plein air (outdoors) rather than only in the studio: "[I]n Tivoli, in the wild rocks at the famous cascade . . . he found me painting from life and saw that I painted many works from nature itself, making nothing from imagination; this pleased himself so much that he applied himself eagerly to adopting the same method."