Two Arcadian shepherds with coarse features discover a tomb inscribed with the words Temporalis Æternitas,alluding to the brevity or frailty of human life. The subject, one that Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione had borrowed from Poussin a decade earlier, was meant to remind viewers that time brings oblivion even to the highest achievements of humankind. An assortment of objects lying on the ground at the left--statues, musical instruments, a seashell, books, and armor--symbolize human accomplishments that have begun to crumble into ruin.
Set against a blue sky with purplish-gray clouds, Castiglione evoked the mystery of an ancient lost civilization. The colors are rich and powerful, with bright reds and blues and a strong red-brown ground.