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Rembrandt, Belshazzar's Feast

Key facts
Full title Belshazzar's Feast
Artist Rembrandt
Artist dates 1606 - 1669
Date made about 1636-8
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 167.6 × 209.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought with a contribution from the Art Fund, 1964
Inventory number NG6350
Location Room 24
Collection Main Collection
Belshazzar's Feast

In his great dramatic painting, Rembrandt tells a story from the Old Testament (Daniel 5: 1–5, 25–8). The man in the gold cloak, enormous turban and tiny crown is Belshazzar, King of Babylon. His father had robbed the Temple of Jerusalem of all its sacred vessels. Using these to serve food at a feast, as Belshazzar does here, was seen as sacrilege.

In the middle of the party, a clap of thunder came as a warning. God’s hand appeared from a cloud and wrote in Hebrew script: ‘You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.’ Within hours, Belshazzar was dead.

In Amsterdam, churches were plain, but people had pictures, some of them religious, in their homes. Encouraged to read the Bible, they would have been familiar with Belshazzar’s fate and with the cautionary message of the story of a wicked king watched by heavenly eyes – like the piercing eyes of the recorder player looking out from the shadows.

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