Peaceable Kingdom, ca. 1848
Oil on canvas
23 7/8 x 31 7/8 inches (60.6 x 81 cm)
James G. Forsyth Fund, 1940
It is thought that Quaker minister Edward Hicks painted Peaceable Kingdom as many as one hundred times. The theme comes from the Biblical Book of Isaiah, and is interpreted by Christianity as a prophecy of the coming of Christ and the arrival of a peaceful world in which all animals and human beings live in harmony and prosperity. The imagery follows the passage closely: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suckling child shall play in the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the cockatrice's den.”
But this isn’t the Promised Land, it is Hicks’s home state of Pennsylvania; and it is not Christ who arrives, it is William Penn. For Hicks, Penn’s landing in the New World and treaty with the Native Americans was the beginning of the road to the Peaceable Kingdom. This was heartfelt on Hicks’s part, but misguided—the treaty had ended when the Quakers lost power more than one hundred years before this painting, and Hicks knew what had happened subsequently to the Native Americans. He painted this hopeful scene numerous times nonetheless.
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