Giorgio de Chirico created his greatest and most influential works during a span of a few years, from 1911 to 1917. This large painting is one of his masterpieces. He was one of the first artists to concentrate on evoking a psychic rather than material reality through incongruous juxtapositions of objects, thus foreshadowing the central goal and one of the principal techniques of Surrealism.
In this painting, de Chirico deployed a repertoire of images that he was to combine and recombine in many other paintings of the period: the vast, empty spaces, the mysterious archways, the long, eerie shadows, the train, clock, and factory chimneys. An aching melancholy pervades the scene. The warmth and bustle of human activity seem to have receded from this place. This is the stillness and silence of a Mediterranean city under the midday sun, but heightened and transformed. Only distant or menacing traces of human activity remain: the train and ship far in the background, dwarfed by the factory chimneys; the shadows of two unseen figures; the cannon jutting out of the left edge of the picture, with its two cannon balls awkwardly and provocatively stacked above it; and, in the immediate foreground, two huge artichokes, which, in their spikiness and size, discourage the viewer's approach, keeping the spell of the scene behind them unbroken.
—Entry, Margherita Andreotti, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), p. 146-147.