This print is after Turner's watercolour of the 'Devil's Bridge, Mt. St Gothard' of about 1806 to 1807 (Tate N03631) but John Ruskin believed Turner's work showed the Via Mala, a mountain pass some forty miles to the east, which Turner may not have visited until 1843. Ruskin may have encouraged Short to use the title 'Via Mala'.
Turner intended the 'Liber Studiorum' to consist of 100 prints but only 71 were released during his lifetime. He did continue to work on potential prints for the 'Liber' after he had finished publishing the series. A number of related unfinished drawings and plates were found in his studio after his death.
The engraver Sir Frank Short (1857-1945) copied a selection of Turner's original 'Liber' prints as a student. He later engraved plates based on Turner's unfinished designs for the 'Liber'. This print, 'Via Mala', was made by Short based on one of these designs.
The 'Liber Studiorum' illustrated Turner’s arguments for the supremacy of landscape painting. The title means ‘book of studies’ in Latin. It contained no written text, instead it was made up of individual mezzotint prints on paper. They were released in fourteen parts from around 1807 until 1819.
The prints reflected the five categories of landscape painting Turner believed existed: architectural, historical, marine, mountainous and pastoral. Turner wrote an initial on each work to indicate which category it belonged to. It is unclear which category this print was intended to belong to.