Once thought to represent the biblical ‘Tower of Babel’, this 1594 painting by the Flemish master Lucas van Valckenborch – recently the subject of scholarly analysis – is now confirmed as an early draft of a design for a medical practitioners surgery and apothecary’s retail opportunity. Close inspection reveals a line of patients in wheelchairs searching in vain for the entrance of this gigantic multi-storey edifice. Designed on the once-common premise linking altitude to vigour, all the consulting rooms were to be on the topmost floors. The leprotic and pleuropneumonic need have no concerns regarding access to the upper levels as an elaborate system of hoists and winches is visible on the outside.
Apparently the project was only abandoned when it was realised tenants could not be found for the enormous, vacuous spaces at the lower levels.
Sir Doric Port-Cochere: the practice retained fine-art critic