Turner made numerous studies of the ancient ruins in the Roman Forum. The subject of this sketch is the eastern façade of the Arch of Septimius Severus, a marble triumphal arch erected in AD 203 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the accession of the titular emperor, and to commemorate his Parthian victories, and those of his two sons, Geta and Caracalla. In the background on the left is part of the Temple of Saturn. Turner has adopted an oblique viewpoint from the base of the Arch looking across the front so that it is possible to see the coffered ceiling of the central opening, as well as one of the lateral side arches. A general sketch of the western façade can be found on folio 13 verso (D16412; Turner Bequest CXC 13a) and more detailed studies recording details of the bas-reliefs and inscriptions can be found in the Albano, Nemi, Rome sketchbook (Tate D15356–D15358; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 33–34).
Like many drawings within this sketchbook, the composition has been executed over a washed grey background and Turner has created areas of pale highlights by rubbing or lifting through to the white paper beneath.