religion; landscape; history; Quakers, William Penn
Pennsylvanian Edward Hicks painted nearly sixty variations on the theme of the Peaceable Kingdom, a subject that resonated deeply with his Quaker faith. The Mead’s painting features a child who extends a branch of grapes, a traditional symbol of Christ’s blood and the Christian Eucharist. This Christ-like child keeps watch over an unusual herd of animals, most of whom are enemies in nature, but here lie down peacefully together. The passage from Isaiah 11:6 surrounding the composition, which Hicks rendered in blocky text revealing his training as a sign painter, iterates the theme of harmony. The large oak tree behind this group symbolizes a recent schism in Quakerism: its verdant high branches represent a new faction led by Hicks’s cousin Elias, who claimed that God guided man through the Inward Light. The older, dying branches refer, by contrast, to the religion’s more tradition-bound followers. In the distance, the Natural Bridge, a Virginia landmark, serves unrealistically as the setting for William Penn’s treaty with the Indians.
Written by Timothy Clark (Class of 2012)
American Art Intern, Spring 2011
Edward Hicks, a devout Quaker, here intertwined biblical allegory and American history. The child who dwells among the beasts—alluding to Christ, as indicated by the grapes of the Eucharistic wine—refers to a passage from Isaiah 11, which describes a peaceful earth where predator and prey live side-by-side in harmony. Hicks painted variants of this theme over sixty times. In the background of this painting, Hicks includes William Penn’s treaty with the Native Americans, which established Pennsylvania as a Quaker colony. Although at first glance a strictly historic scene, Penn’s allegorical juxtaposition with a Christ-like figure further identifies him as the savior of the New World. Hicks, a carriage and sign painter, never received formal training in the arts, which is reflected in the simplistic and flattened rendering of form.
Written by Elizabeth Ganley-Roper
Hampshire College, Class of 2011