One of the iconic images in de Chirico's oeuvre, the present work depicts an enigmatic, desolate urban setting, its eerie atmosphere characteristic of the artist’s metaphysical paintings. Born in Greece to Italian parents, de Chirico was surrounded by images of antiquity since early childhood. Classical mythology, history and architecture provided a font of inspiration for the artist, who often incorporated these subjects into a contemporary setting.
The work incorporates the primary motifs of this series of paintings depicting Italian piazze: the empty porticoes, the train sweeping through the background of the scene and the solitary sculpture dominating the center of the composition. While de Chirico never divulged the identity of this sculpture, it is believed to be based on the monument to journalist Giovanni Battista Bottero in Turin’s Largo IV Marzo piazza, as the painter visited the city in 1911 (see fig. 1).
Quoting the artist's own writing, James Thrall Soby explains how this general premise of melancholy, central to de Chirico's metaphysical paintings, was derived from the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche: "As to the derivation of the Italian squares or 'memories of Italy,' the artist gives due credit to Nietzsche by describing in his autobiography what seems to him to have been the German philosopher's most remarkable innovation: 'This innovation is a strange and profound poetry, infinitely mysterious and solitary, based on Stimmung (which might be translated...as atmosphere), based, I say, on the Stimmung of an autumn afternoon when the weather is clear and the shadows are longer than in summer, for the sun is beginning to be lower...' There is no reason to doubt that Nietzsche's prose played a key part in stimulating the painter's interest in creating a poetic reconstruction of the dream-lit piazzas of Italy" (James Thrall Soby, Giorgio de Chirico, New York, 1955, pp. 27 & 28).