It is very possible that this painting was commissioned by Prince Mikhail Vorontsov in the late 1840s or early 1850s. The Vorontsov name was one of the oldest and most important in Odessa, where Carlo Bossoli and his family had emigrated to from Switzerland in the 1820s, and it was thanks to their patronage that his career first took off. The talented young Carlo soon came to the attention of Princess Elizaveta. Her husband, then Governor-General of Novorossiya, commissioned a series of panoramic views of Odessa which so impressed him that he sponsored the artist to spend a year studying in Italy in 1839-1840. On Bossoli’s return, Vorontsov commissioned a further set of views of their palace at Alupka.
Soon afterwards, in 1844 Vorontsov was made commander-in-chief and viceroy to the Caucasus at the height of the Caucasian War which saw Russia try to expand her empire southwards against resistance from the mostly Muslim mountain tribes. After suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of Imam Shamil, Vorontsov persuaded the Tsar to pursue a siege strategy and to this end he oversaw the completion of the Georgian Military Highway in 1845-1846. The route remained under Russian control throughout the Caucasian War and was a key factor in Russia’s eventual success.
The Georgian Military Highway runs from Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia to Tbilisi. This view depicts the northern border between Russian and Georgia where the route follows the fast-flowing River Terek as it cuts through the Darial Gorge and opens out onto verdant plains. As one of only two passes through the Caucasus mountains, the Darial Gorge was of huge strategic importance both economically and militarily. The men, most likely Terek Cossacks, are typically dressed for the people of the Northern Caucasus, with their wide-sleeved cherkesska, cartridge holders on their chests and distinctive fleece hats.