I’ve got one more (for now) from the 1916 Campanile. As I was studying a page near the front of the book I was dimly aware that the facing page had something avian on it. When I turned to it I was surprised to find peacocks instead of owls. Here it is:
I recognized it right away as a version of the carved peacocks on the arcade between the Administration Building and the Physics Building, which would have been new when the first Campanile was being put together:
In 1916 the students spent a lot of time outside and there wasn’t all that much to look at so they paid fairly close attention to things that we just walk past today.
These aren’t the only peacocks on campus, of course. Aside from the ones that match these on the arcade that connects Lovett Hall to Sewall there are also the handle plates on the inside of the doors to Lovett:
We have the Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson sketches of these in the Woodson:
They really didn’t do anything by accident in these buildings but I confess that I don’t know the reason for the peacocks. Speculation is welcome. It would be even cooler if you actually know why they were used.
Bonus: It’s probably just happenstance but Lenard Gabert ’16, ’17, one of the first graduating class of Rice architects, put this astonishing peacock on one of his early designs, an apartment building downtown on Austin Street.
These door plates were also used in old South Hall and maybe ALL of the original buildings. I have not surveyed them but I would not be surprised to find many of these door plates. Most doors had two, one on each side of the door. On the back of the plates are the cast name of SERGENT and the number 1600. Were these cast especially for Rice or were they just copied from a catalog? I have written to both you and Sergent Co and had no replies. It would be an interesting study. What is the significance of the Peacocks and why were they used so profusely?.
It certainly looks like they were specially cast for Rice. But I have no idea why so many peacocks or what their significance might have been.
What is the small blue detail that is repeated throughout the peacock’s tail?
Might it be a Bluebonnet?
Lenard Gabert! I didn’t realize his stuff was at Rice. Makes sense. I know of two projects he did in Brazosport, both rather interesting, but they don’t seem to be in the inventory.
There are many articles that describe the ancient symbolism of peacocks.
Here’s an interpretation of a stone marble panel that likely came from a 6th or 7th century European church, monastery, or convent and now resides at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. While the Rice peacocks don’t include a cross, perhaps their symbolism is similar to or derived from those that do.
>>The image of two peacocks surrounding a cross would have been understood as a merging of the ancient symbol associated with Juno, the Roman mother goddess and the relatively newly adopted symbol for Jesus and the Christian church.
This mix wouldn’t have been surprising to its viewers. Romans also associated the peacock with immortality; the flesh of the bird was believed to be incorruptible. So Early Christians adopted the symbol of the peacock associating it with the immortality of the soul. Other similar carvings from the same era show these symbols were used as funerary images on sarcophagi, the joined peacocks and cross offering a reminder of the eternal afterlife.
On this panel at the MFAH, the cross and peacocks are surrounded by vines and leaves. One further interpretation is the two together are symbols for the sacred body and blood of Christ. The museum offers a text suggesting the possibility that the vines, the source of wine, and the peacock, the incorruptible flesh, would together be a symbol for Christ. That the cross is in the center makes perfect sense, since it’s origin wasn’t necessarily ancient and may have only been widely adopted several generations earlier as the symbol for Christ.
Here’s a link to a short article that summarieze the ancient history of peacock symbols: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/the-peacock-a-symbol-of-royalty-65241
… and here’s a discussion thread on church-related peacock symbolism: http://www.monachos.net/conversation/topic/2776-significance-of-the-peacock/