The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

Edward Hicks

The Peaceable Kingdom, c.1833, Oil on canvas, 44.5 x 60.2 cm, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts; Museum purchase, 1934.65, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, USA / Bridgeman Images

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The Peaceable Kingdom

Commentary by

The Peaceable Kingdom is a title Edward Hicks (1780–1849) gave to over sixty painted renderings of Isaiah 11, a text he would contemplate for more than thirty years (Weekley 1999; Jones 2016).

This particular painting offers a visual exegesis of the Scripture. It shows a day yet to come when the world is restored to primeval innocence, when ‘natural’ enemies dwell together in peace (for a sense of the conflicts concealed within Hicks’s later ‘Kingdoms’, see Cotter 2000). Here, as forecast in Isaiah’s prophecy, predatory lions do not menace their customary prey (11:6), carnivorous bears graze alongside cattle (v.7), a little child is wondrously raised to prominence (v.6), even as a pair of youngsters ‘play over the hole of the asp’ (v.8) and pat a leopard’s extended paw. The style of the painting, its playfulness and apparent naivety, suggests an unfallen Eden projected into a new Golden Age.

Hick’s vision is not ahistorical, however. He juxtaposes a world where ‘natural’ enemies become friends with an actual historical moment of peace-making between former antagonists. In the left background, we see William Penn—a Quaker, like Hicks—negotiating an accord between white colonists and the native American population. This event became the subject of five paintings made by Hicks from 1850–5. All of them depict the 1681 treaty struck between William Penn and the Leni-Lenape tribe.

The inclusion of this scene in the composition suggests that Isaiah’s prophecy can be realized in historical time if only occasionally, as it was once through the intervention of a peacemaker like Penn. For something more universally enduring, however, what Isaiah speaks of as ‘the spirit of the Lord’ (11:2) must be shed abroad so that all the world becomes Zion’s holy mountain. For Quakers, that meant the shining of the ‘inward Light’ within humanity. Only with its radiance would the earth ‘be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (v.9).

 

References

Cotter, Holland. 2000. ‘Art Review: Finding Endless Conflict Hidden in a Peaceable Kingdom, 16 June 2000’, www.nytimes.com, [accessed 26 April 2018]

Jones, Victoria Emily. 2016. ‘The Peaceable Kingdoms of Edward Hicks’, Art & Theology, available at https://artandtheology.org/2016/12/06/the-peaceable-kingdoms-of-edward-hicks/ [accessed 30 October 2018]

Weekley, Carolyn J., with Laura Pass Barry. 1999. The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks (Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)