This painting shows the worksite around a palace, with workers in the foreground. The palace now rises nearly to the top edge of the painting, which was trimmed, suggesting that the panel was originally at least a bit taller.
Here one sees a crucial clue to the overall logic of the composition: the entablature of the palace colonnade aligns with the point where 30-degree lines launched from the bottom corners of the panel converge. More subtly, these sloping lines pass along elements such as the stacked building material and elevated platform in the left and right halves of the painting, respectively.
Here 45-degree diagonals have been drawn upwards from the panel corners to the palace colonnade, and verticals have been dropped from the intersection points, creating squares. The diagonal of the left-hand square passes along the belly of the ox and through its team, and the right margin of the square aligns with the seated worker beside them, but these relationships hardly appear compelling in themselves. The diagonal of the right-hand square, similarly, passes through the head of the horseman seen in profile, and the margin of the square aligns with the head and shin of the white-clad sawyer just to his left, but these could all be dismissed as coincidences.
When arcs are unfolded using the squares’ diagonals as radii, however, other clearer geometrical evidence comes into view: the left arc sweeps along the tilted body of the red-capped worker in the foreground, and a vertical rising from its bottom point describes the right edge of the block on which his companion sits. The corresponding vertical in the right-hand side of the panel passes quite precisely through the tip of the small tripod supporting the seated sawyer.
A small half-circle placed between these verticals rises to visually support the forelegs of the horse on the middle axis of the painting. More importantly, the intersections of the large arcs with the 30-degree lines define the ground line of the palace. Also, when the large orange arcs are expanded to a full 90-degree sweep, their top points establish a level just above the painting’s truncated upper edge, suggesting that this level may have marked the original margin of the panel.
To explore this hypothesis, it helps to begin by drawing yellow semi-circles centered on the points that would have been halfway up the original sides of the panel, coinciding with the endpoints of the line describing the front edge of the palace platform.
When half-decagons are inscribed within these half-circles, many significant relationships reveal themselves. At the lower left of the panel, the radius to the midpoint of the lowermost decagon facet passes precisely along the rod held by the man facing the ox; the 72-degree slope of this rod, in fact, helps to signal the presence of this geometry. The other radii in this zone help to organize details such as the horsemen in the distance, the workers just in front of them, and their shadows, and the same pattern can be seen on the right side of the panel, as well. The horizontal through the lower facet midpoints passes along the base of the block in the left foreground, and along the top of the horse’s shadow at the far right. The corresponding horizontal through the top facet midpoint, meanwhile, aligns precisely with the roofline of the palace. The horizontal through the top corner of the middle facet aligns with the horizon, and the horizontal through the bottom corner of the middle facet aligns with many details, such as the front of the large slab, the front of the molding being moved by workers, the muzzle of the frontally-facing horse, the pattern of rocks just to the right, the feet of the workers carrying the front of the coffin-like box, and on the righthand facet corner, the ear of the transversely oriented horse.
At left, it can be seen that the front legs of the oxen have the same 72-degree slope as their master’s staff. The extension of the decagon’s sloping lower facet passes along the leg of the workman seated on the block, directly across his companion’s inclined shoulders, along the dark materials behind, directly between the heads of the frontally-facing horse and its rider, and eventually along the hills in the right background. The corresponding line starting from the hills at left passes again below the face of the front-facing rider, along the foot of the white-clad sawyer, and through the leg joints and rear hoof of the side-facing horse. The tan ground on which the workers and the palace stand terminates in a horizontal line halfway between the decagon equators and the red line describing the palace entablature.
The inner margins of the palace’s two constituent blocks align with verticals through the points where lines of 60-degree slope launched from the vanishing point on the horizon intersect the green horizontal defining the palace roofline. The left and right margins of the palace colonnade align with verticals through the midpoints of the steep decagon facets. The outer margins of the palace’s second story align with verticals through the points where the orange 45-degree lines cut the extensions of those facets. Raking blue lines connecting the bottom points of the former verticals with the original top points of the latter align with many of the workers in the middle ground including those carrying the coffin-like box, and the wood being sawn. The end of this wooden piece and the hat of the seated sawyer line up with the 45-degree line rising from the midpoint of the panel’s bottom edge; the corresponding diagonal in the left half of the panel, similarly, passes along the corner of the block being used by the red-hatted worker, passing by his head and along the sides of the stone slabs behind him. It is possible to go further into the geometry of the panel, but these steps suffice to determine its overall outlines, and many of its details.
This painting is the property of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida. This analysis was based on the image: