Belshazzar's Feast

Rembrandt's source for this painting, the Old Testament Book of Daniel (5: 1-6, 25-8), tells of a banquet Belshazzar, Regent of Babylon, gave for his nobles. At this banquet he blasphemously served wine in the sacred vessels one of his predecessors had looted from the Temple in Jerusalem.

Rembrandt shows the moment when a divine hand appeared and wrote on the wall a phrase only Daniel could decipher. When transliterated the inscription reads: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation: '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.' That very night Belshazzar was slain.

Rembrandt derived the form of Hebrew inscription from a book by his friend, the learned Rabbi and printer, Menasseh ben Israel.

The picture, probably painted about 1636 or slightly later, is an example of Rembrandt's attempt to establish himself as a painter of large-scale Baroque history paintings.

Key facts

Artist dates
1606 - 1669
Full title
Belshazzar's Feast
Date made
about 1636-8
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
167.6 x 209.2 cm
Inscription summary
Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit
Bought with a contribution from the Art Fund, 1964
Inventory number
Location in Gallery