“Belshazzar’s Feast” by Rembrandt
“Belshazzar’s Feast” by Rembrandt depicts a story from the Old Testament Book of Daniel. The background of the story is that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had looted the Temple in Jerusalem. He stole the sacred artifacts, such as the golden cups, from the Temple. In Book of Daniel, his son Belshazzar used these cups for a great feast. During the feast, the hand of God appeared and wrote an inscription on the wall.
Belshazzar and his advisers were not able to decipher the inscription and had to send for Daniel to help them with the translation. The inscription on the wall states:
“God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.
You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.
Your kingdom is given to the Medes and Persians.”
This painting was Rembrandt’s attempt to establish himself as a painter of large, baroque history paintings. Rembrandt’s technique is exceptional, and his palette was unusually rich, encompassing such pigments as vermilion, smalt, lead-tin-yellow, yellow and red lakes, ochres, and azurite.
Rembrandt lived in the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam and derived the Hebrew inscription from a book by his friend, the Rabbi, and printer, Menasseh ben Israel. Rembrandt mistranscribed one of the characters and arranged them in columns, rather than right to left, as Hebrew is written.
In 1834 the painting was stolen from its then-owner, a picture dealer living in London. One of the thieves was found guilty and transported to Tasmania, Australia.
Belshazzar was the eldest son of Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian empire, and regent for his father. He was killed when Babylon fell to the Persians in 539 BCE.
Belshazzar appears as a central character in the story of Belshazzar’s feast. Daniel’s Belshazzar is not malevolent, and he rewards Daniel for his interpretation of the writing. Still, in later Jewish tradition, he is presented as a tyrant who oppresses the Jewish people.
Book of Daniel
In the Book of Daniel, during a feast, while Babylonians eat and drink from the holy vessels of Yahweh’s Temple, and during the feasting, Belshazzar sees the handwriting on a wall. Daniel interprets the writing as a judgment from Yahweh, the God of Israel, foretelling the fall of Babylon. Daniel tells Belshazzar that because he has not given the honor to God, his kingdom will be given to the Medes and Persians. Belshazzar is killed that night, and Darius, the Mede, takes the kingdom.
The Book of Daniel was compiled shortly after 164 BCE, following the Maccabean Revolt. The story of Belshazzar’s feast is historical fiction, and several details are not consistent with historical facts. Belshazzar is portrayed as the king of Babylon and “son” of Nebuchadnezzar. However, he was the son of Nabonidus, one of Nebuchadnezzar’s successor and he never became king in his own right. In the story, the conqueror who inherits Babylon is Darius the Mede, but no such individual is known to history, and the invaders were Persians.
Rembrandt van Rijn was an innovative and prolific master draughtsman, painter, and printmaker. He is generally considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and the most important in Dutch art history. Rembrandt’s works depict a range of styles and subjects, from portraits and self-portraits to landscapes, genre scenes, allegorical and historical scenes, biblical and mythological themes as well as animal studies.
- Title: Belshazzar’s Feast
- Artist: Rembrandt
- Date: 1635-1638
- Medium: oil on canvas
- Dimensions: Height: 167.6 cm (65.9″); Width: 209.2 cm (82.3″)
- Type: Biblical Paintings
- Museum: National Gallery, London
- Name: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
- Born: 1606 – Leiden, Dutch Republic (now the Netherlands)
- Died: 1669 (aged 63) – Amsterdam, Dutch Republic (Netherlands)
- Nationality: Dutch
- Movement: Dutch Golden Age, Baroque
- Notable Works:
A Tour of Famous Bible Paintings
- The Creation Of Adam – Michelangelo
- The Last Supper – Leonardo da Vinci
- Pietà by Michelangelo
- “The Holy Trinity” by El Greco
- “Christ in the House of His Parents” by John Everett Millais
- Saint Helena by Andrea Bolgi
- Saint Longinus by Bernini
- Saint Andrew by Francois Duquesnoy
- Saint Veronica by Francesco Mochi
- “Saint Michael and the Dragon” by the Sienese School
- Black St George Icon
- “The Repentant Saint Peter” by El Greco
- “The Tears of Saint Peter” by El Greco
- “Saint Jerome as Scholar” by El Greco (The MET)
- “Saint Jerome Penitent” by El Greco
- “Saint Francis in the Desert” by Giovanni Bellini
- “Saint Luke painting the Virgin” by Master of the Holy Blood
- “Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary” by Raphael
- “Crucifixion” by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano
- Crucifixion Diptych” by Rogier van der Weyden
- “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne” by Leonardo da Vinci
- The Crucifixion and The Last Judgment Diptych by Jan van Eyck (MET)
- Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) by Robert Campin (MET)
- The Belles Heures of Jean of France, Duke of Berry
- Wilton Diptych
- “The Raising of Lazarus” by Sebastiano del Piombo
- “Salvator Mundi” by Albrecht Dürer
- “Salvator Mundi” by Andrea Previtali
- “Baptism of Christ” by Jacopo Bassano
- “Crucifix” by Master of Saint Francis
- “The Virgin and Child” by Master of the Clarisse
- “The Virgin and Child Enthroned, with Narrative Scenes” by Margarito d’Arezzo
- “Samson and Delilah” by Peter Paul Rubens
- “The Annunciation” by Duccio
- “The Healing of the Man Born Blind” by Duccio
- Christ by Emmanuel Lambardos
- Pilgrim’s Bottle of Saint Menas
- “Massacre of the Innocents” by Peter Paul Rubens
- “Christ and the Woman of Samaria” by Rembrandt
- “The Last Supper” by Ugolino di Nerio
- “The Madonna of the Pinks” by Raphael
- “Mary Magdalene” by Girolamo Savoldo
- “Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio
- “Virgin of the Rocks” by Leonardo da Vinci
- “Saint George and the Dragon” by Tintoretto
- Madonna in the Meadow by Raphael
- The Alba Madonna by Raphael
- Small Cowper Madonna by Raphael
- “Adoration of the Magi” by Botticelli
- “Judith Slaying Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi
- “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Diego Velázquez
- “The Finding of the Savior in the Temple” by William Holman Hunt
- Maestà by Duccio
- Susanna and the Elders
- The Finding of Moses
- “Belshazzar’s Feast” by Rembrandt
“A painting is complete when it has the shadows of god.”
Photo Credit: 1)Rembrandt [Public domain]