Friday, October 28, 2011

Wednesday's House Insignia of the Day Revealed...U Bílého páva (At the White Peacock)

U Bílého páva (At the White Peacock)

The peacock originally comes from the Near East, where for ancient cultures it symbolized the sun.  In Greek mythology, the male peacock's splendid tail was created by none other than the goddess Hera, using the hundred eyes of Argus Panopteus, the ever-wakeful hundred-eyed giant whom she sent, out of jealousy, to keep watch on Zeus's mortal lover Io and who was killed on orders from Zeus.


Zeus falling in love with Io by Jacopo Amiconi (1682-1752)

Medieval Europe, in turn, ascribed all of the desired qualities of the ideal knight to the peacock - even when the bird was prepared for the table.  "L'oiseau nobile" - the noblest of birds, in the language of chivalry - was served exclusively at feats of the highest-born dukes and barons.  The valuable roast was never brought to the festive table by mere servants, but invariably by the lady of the manor, or at least her daughter.  The unfortunate bird would be placed on the carving plate decorated with its own plumage, its wings spread wide and its beak and claws gilded.  As for the task of carving the meat, it was assigned only to the bravest of the knights, or the most silver-tongued of the troubadours, who before taking the knife in hand would publicly swear an oath that they assumed the labor as the greatest of honors.  Such was the fate of many a peacock in 13th century Europe.


The house at this location in Celetná Street has been known since the early 16th century as U Bílého páva (At the White Peacock); the present appearance of the stucco relief is from the mid-18th century.  By this date, however, the peacock was a thoroughly common sight in Prague, raised by many of the citizenry simply for the delight of their glittering plumage, in much the same manner as dogs are kept today.  

In fact, peacocks multiplied with such rapidity that the city council had to respond to many complaints arising from their piercing shrieks.  Finally, a special decree limiting the raising of peacocks in Prague had to be issued by Empress Maria Theresa.

Empress Maria Theresa

Originally a group of early Gothic houses, unified by later renovations; in 1945 the house was destroyed in a fire and then restored three years later.  A rococo façade with the original house sign was preserved.

Location:  Celetná ulice 10/557, Staré Město (Old Town)