It turns out we have a sizeable palace, built from stone, and decorated with architectural detailing and sculptures, all of which imply wealth and status. The arcade at the bottom right of the building is lofty and spacious, and the tall, thin windows at the top left suggest that there is a grand interior hall. Whoever this palace belongs to, they clearly want to impress.
The architecture itself is giving off different messages. The broadly-curving, round-topped arches look more Romanesque than Renaissance, and are reminiscent of the type of architecture that Northern European artists (by which I mean German, Flemish or Netherlandish generally) would use to imply ‘pre-Christian’. The sort of buildings, in fact, that we saw in Jan van Gossaert’s Adoration of the Magi (c. 1510-15), if you were around before Christmas, and following my Advent series. Above what appears to be the doorway, at the bottom left, the rounded arch is topped by an ogee arch – i.e. an arch made of two mirror-image ogees, s-shaped, curved sections of masonry, consisting of a concave and a convex element. In this case, each ogee is a cyma reversa, as the convex element (of stonework) is above the concave, relative to the inside of the arch. At the top of the arch is a capstone, which here is topped with a stylised lily. This, when combined with the undulating leaf forms which top the ogee, is common in Venetian architecture in the 15th Century, but does occur elsewhere as well. Meanwhile, down the side of the building there is a more regular structure, with large, rectangular windows, including one in the pointed gable. These upper stories project slightly from the lower levels, and this section of the building, to my eye, at least, has a more 16th Century feel.
The sculptures also give off different messages. The larger of the two presents a standing male figure in a long robe, wearing a cowl, and some form of hat – although not the sort that makes him appear monastic. Next to him is a figure in a rather undignified posture. Rather than the elegant, upright stance of his neighbour, he is all angles, the posture suggesting the character of the person represented. It doesn’t help, to be honest, that as he bends down his buttocks are turned towards us, and surprisingly (under any circumstance, but especially as the sculpture is at such a distance), there is more than a hint of testicle. The character depicted is clearly not one to be respected by right-minded people. With right arm bent and left fully extended, he could easily be an archer, although any bow, had it existed, is missing – but that would happen easily with any stone sculpture open to the elements. He would appear to be shooting directly at the other sculpture, though quite what he is aiming at I shall leave you to decide.
His bow and arrow may have gone, but he still has a sword and buckler – a circular shield, common in the medieval period. The sword does not appear to be European. It is curved in a broad arc, the end being cut across in a straight line leading to a sharp point: it is a scimitar. Originating in the 9th century in central Europe, scimitars were perhaps best known as the swords faced by the crusaders, wielded by ‘the Turk’, or members of the Ottoman Empire. It is another suggestion that this building is not Christian, however familiar most of the individual features might be. But to find out who it belongs to, we may have to wait several days, or even weeks…