THE PEACEABLE KINGDOM

Edward Hicks was a nineteenth-century American who painted altogether in isolation. He knew no other artists and probably never visited a museum. His The Peaceable Kingdom is an intensely personal picture. It summarizes his own experience. Yet, more than most pictures, it explains mankind's deep dilemmas.

The painting is one of roughly a hundred similar canvases which Hicks based on a prophecy in the Bible ( Isaiah xi):

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and 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 an ox. And the suckling child shall play in the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrices' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

The leopard lies down with the kid near the right edge of the painting. Directly to the left, the wolf dwells in peace with the lamb, and above these two groups a little child is leading the young lion, the calf, and the fatling. In a minor deviation from the biblical text, the suckling child holds the asp happily in its hand while the weaned child looks after her with motherly care. A fourth child feeds both the American eagle and the dove of peace. The composition is dominated by the mature lion and the ox. Protruding from behind this magnificent pair, the cow and the bear chew on the same ear of American corn.

The additions Hicks made to the biblical scene were all of local reference. We are not on a holy mountain but in one of the most lovely places in his native Pennsylvania, the Delaware Water-Gap. Hicks

____________________
An earlier version of this essay appeared as "The Peaceable Kingdom: Painting by Edwards Hicks, America, 1780-1849," in Man Through His Arts. I. War and Peace, ed. Anil de Silva, Otto van Simon, and Roger Hinks ( London: E. P. Publishing Co., 1963), pp. 55-56.

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