In this painting Fabris depicts the second and best preserved of the three temples at Paestum, near Salerno, south of Naples, bathed in a warm sunset light. Built around 450 BC, the temple is dedicated to Hera, and is also known as the Temple of Poseidon (in Greek), or Neptune (in Roman). In Paestum there also survives a forum, an amphitheatre, the remains of temple of Ceres, which can be glimpsed through the row of columns on the left and a third temple, known as the Basilica, which lay to the South.
Paestum had been a tourist attraction since the 1750s, well before Fabris took it as a subject for this painting. In fact, his composition was probably inspired by paintings by earlier artists such as Antonio Joli (1700-1777), and contemporaries such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), who chose the same dramatic close-up, internal view. The Temple of Hera was not quite as tidy or open as Fabris’s view suggests; other works show that the central space was largely filled with blocks of masonry which had fallen from the upper parts of the building. To complement the classical architecture and provide a sense of scale, Fabris also includes figures and details observed from life.
Pietro Fabris The Temple of Hera at Paestum Late 1770s © Compton Verney