What language can describe the feelings, the gratitude and thankfulness... What sincere love and friendship he must feel for such a brother! Would it not lead to a friendship in Christ, that would knit their souls together with stronger ties than Jonathan and David? (Edward Hicks, Memoir (published posthumously, Philadelphia, 1851, p.319).
Edward Hicks, the devout Quaker minister from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is best known for his Peaceable Kingdoms, images that have achieved iconic status within the annuls of American Folk Art. Depicting the strifeless co-existence of normally competitive creatures, his paintings have been thought of as sermons of peace and harmony.
Perhaps the only allegorical painting that Hicks painted that does not rely on animal personifications, this painting has been called a "sermon of reconciliation." (Miller and Mather, Edward Hicks: His Peaceable Kingdoms and Other Paintings (New Brunswick, 1983), p.207). The painting takes its narrative from two biblical passages, one from the old testament and one from the new testament. As with the Peaceable Kingdoms, the essential theme is harmony in defiance of traditional enmities. In the center, the denouement of a frienship between Jonathan and David is represented; Jonathan, son of King Saul, and the legendary David, rival of the King, say farewell at a stone ezel as the King's son has just warned his friend of his father's wrath and of the former of impending danger should he remain in the city (First Samuel:10:40-42). At their right, a good Samaritan is pouring oil and wine on the wounds of a downtrodden man (Luke:10:35-37). They are two parables with similar lessons. Hicks has probably juxtaposed them to communicate a third level of meaning.
Though deviating in many respects from Hicks' Peaceable Kingdoms, aspects of the painter's well-known works are detectable. The differentiation of smaller and larger figures to represent various depths of perception and the schematic nature of the farthest background are two such features. Another, is the character of the fierce and broken tree behind Jonathan and David at left. This tree can be compared to many in the painter's oeuvre, but is particularly reminiscent of several included in what Ford terms the "Peaceable Kingdoms of Mourning." These works, painted in the early 1830s were painted just after the death of the artist's cousin and mentor, Elias Hicks and include his figure in profile (For illustrations and discussion see Ford, Edward Hicks: His Life and Art (New York, 1985), pp.76-85). Within this context, these trees can possibly be seen as symbols of mourning. Their similarity to those in the painting offered here may indicate a similar meaning.
Hicks, who frequently borrowed compositions from published prints, is known to have adopted the parable of the Good Samaritan from an engraving by C. Tiebout after William Hogarth (see figure 1). The print was found in the family Bible of Isaac and Edward Hicks (Ford, p.210).