Of his myriad achievements as an artist and man of letters, the brilliant and moody Salvator Rosa's contributions to the increasingly popular genre of landscape in the seventeenth century loom large. This spirited drawing of a towering, gnarled tree, its dense matrix of branches and leaves rendered in careful detail, is exceptional not only for its monumental scale but also for its exclusive focus on a single specimen: divorced from any narrative context, the tree is also isolated from a broader landscape-the arboreal equivalent of a solitary, standing figure.
An early work by Rosa, the drawing is iconic of his lifelong fascination with the haunting power and majesty of landscape. While it may well have been executed with no particular purpose in mind, a possible function, though conjectural, is worth considering: one of Rosa's most accomplished and masterful etchings, The Rescue of the Infant Oedipus, is a technical tour de force due to the manner in which the artist drew the massive, towering tree that dominates the composition directly onto the plate, without the intermediate step of a preparatory drawing. Studies such as A Large Tree may well have been the vehicle through which the artist mastered the complex tree morphology, allowing him to achieve what seemed to be an effortless bravura when it came time to etch the plate.