The painting is one of the most famous of van Ruisdael's landscapes, and probably dates from the late 1660s. The composition apparently pleased the painter as well as his patrons, and is known in several smaller-scale versions, including 'An Extensive Landscape with Ruins', which is also in the Gallery.
The scene is a sombre one, though not melancholy in its effect, and centres upon the ray of sunshine that lights up the fields in the middle distance. The clouds are banked towards each side of the composition, and diagonals, interrupted by the vertical thrust of the church spire and the ruined castle turret, lead from the foreground to the centre. The two figures to the left, probably painted by Adriaen van der Velde, give a human scale to the painting. While it is not possible to identify a precise location, the composition may have been loosely based on the landscape around the Dutch town of Haarlem.