01 December 2013

Art for Advent (1): Noah’s Ark by Edward Hicks

‘Noah’s Ark’ (1846), Edward Hicks, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Patrick Comerford

Today is the First Sunday of Advent [1 December 2013] and this day officially is the start of a new church year.

In Advent, we focus on the coming of Christ both as the Christ Child in all his weakness at the incarnation on Christmas Day, but also as Christ the King, in all power and glory at his second coming to earth.

At this time of year, we also consider justice issues and we are asked to think about what it is going to be like to dwell in peace.

In previous years, I have looked at poems and saints that remind us of these Advent themes. This year, I intend looking at works of art that help us to focus on Advent and its meaning as we prepare for Christmas.

Today we begin the Year A readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. The readings for the First Sunday of Advent are: Isaiah 2: 1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24:36-44.

In our Gospel reading (Matthew 24: 36-44), Christ talks privately to the Disciples on the Mount of Olives about his Second Coming, telling them:

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

My choice of a work of art this morning reflects the reference to Noah’s Ark in this Gospel reading: I have chosen Noah’s Ark (1846) by Edward Hicks, which is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Edward Hicks (1780-1849) was an American folk painter and a minister in the Society of Friends or Quakers.

Edward Hicks was born on 4 April 1780 in his grandfather’s mansion at Attleboro (now Langhorne), in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to Anglican parents. His father, Isaac Hicks, was a Loyalist who was left without any money after the British defeat in the American War of Independence.

Edward Hick’s mother died when he was 18 months old, and he was raised by his mother’s friend on her farm. When he was 13, Hicks was apprenticed as a coach-maker, and eventually became a coach painter.

He started attending Quaker meetings and in 1803 he joined the Society of Friends.

In 1812 his meeting or local church recorded him as a minister, and by 1813 he was travelling throughout Philadelphia as a Quaker preacher, supporting himself by his work as a painter, and by farming.

In 1820, he painted the first of his many versions of The Peaceable Kingdom, which became his best-known theme.

In 1827, Pennsylvania’s Quakers were divided by a schism, with the more liberal Quakers become known as Hicksites their leader, Elias Hicks, a cousin of Edward Hicks.

Meanwhile, Edward Hicks had a growing reputation as a religious artist. He died on 23 August 1849.

During his lifetime, Hicks painted over sixty versions of Peaceable Kingdom, drawing on themes in Isaiah 11: 6-8 and Isaiah 65:25, with the lion eating straw with the ox. His other well-known works, including Peaceable Kingdom and my choice of painting this morning, Noah’s Ark, are found in many versions too. This version of Noah’s Ark is on display in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our deliverer,
Awaken our hearts
to prepare the way for the advent of your Son,
that, with minds purified by the grace of his coming,
we may serve you faithfully all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow: Art for Advent (2): ‘Christ and the Tsunami’ by Georgia Lelou

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