An established architect in the service of Louis XVIII, Hittorff completed his training with several trips at the beginning of 1820. Thus the young man spent eighteen months in Italy between 1822 and 1824, and during this stay put together a huge collection of archaeological documentation that he used as a basis for his architectural projects.
Hittorff particularly visited Sicily to study the excavations on the acropolis of Selinunte. He returned convinced that Greek temples had been embellished with colours both inside and outside, as proved by the coloured fragments found in situ in the recent excavations. The architect thus completely overturned the theories on the decoration of ancient monuments as well as the whole perception of this architecture. This watercolour presented at the 1859 Salon shows the restoration-reconstruction of the temple then called "Temple T", dating from the 6th century BC.
Eight fluted columns in the Doric order span the width of the building. The pediment and metopes are embellished with painted reliefs with a warlike Athena enthroned at the centre. The capitals, as well as the cabochon-like elements above them, are adorned with polychrome decorative motifs – a product of the young man's imagination. In fact, it was not possible to know from the ruins what the decoration of the temple would have been like. Hittorff therefore decided to put forward a decoration based on those from other Greek monuments. Similarly, he invented an urban setting: the temples and porticos situated here and there on the main temple do not correspond to the architectural reality of the site. The isolated sculpted groups found between the columns were also the result of the architect's fancy.
One of the characteristics of Hittorff's Italian studies was to blend the rigour of scientific observation with a nostalgic interpretation of the past, or even just to give free rein to his imagination.