This is one of a series of major mixed-media installations produced by Hiller since All these works are illustrated in the ICA catalogue, listed.
GeneralPainting The Story in Paintings: The story of Belshazzar, his feast, and ultimate downfall is tucked away in the relative obscurity of the Book of Daniel, in the Old Testament, and to the best of my knowledge has only inspired four significant artists to portray it in paint.
It presents an unusual problem for narrative painting, in that the story itself is about words — the same words that gave rise to the expression the writing is on the wall. It is therefore quite a literary narrative, and at first sight might not be a wise choice for a painting at all.
King Belshazzar was the son of Nebuchadnezzar, and like his father was the King of Babylon. Although Belshazzar was not wholly bad — he rewarded the prophet Daniel, for instance — he did not fear and respect God.
Belshazzar threw a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and demanded that the holy vessels be brought from the Temple in Jerusalem for use at his feast — a very irreverent act. Belshazzar called on his magicians and soothsayers to interpret the letters, but they could not.
When he arrived, Belshazzar offered to make him third in rank in the kingdom if he could translate the Hebrew letters; although he refused the honour, Daniel translated. In doing so, he reminded Belshazzar of how God threw his father down until he learned subservience to God.
Daniel pointed out that Belshazzar had been drinking from the Temple vessels but had not given honour to God. Accordingly God wrote the words mene, mene, tekel, parsin — translated and explicated as God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end, you have been weighed and found wanting, and your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
That night, Belshazzar was killed, and his kingdom passed to King Darius the Mede. Belshazzar is stood, taken aback to the point where his eyes appear to be popping out, as he watches the disembodied hand trace out the foreign letters on the wall behind him. His right hand is steadying him against a salver on the table, having knocked one of the Temple vessels over, his left hand is held up in amazement, as if to push the vision away from him.
A couple of his guests sat to his right show astonishment, although the direction of their gaze is not actually at the writing on the wall.
There is, unfortunately, a problem with the Hebrew writing on the wall. Rembrandt is believed to have been advised by a friend who was a learned Rabbi, but one of the characters is incorrect, and they are arranged inappropriately in columns, rather than horizontally from right to left.
The facial expressions are remarkably worked, and the body language even has wry touches of humour, with goblets being knocked over and tipped. His tight composition gives no impression of the scale and grandeur of the whole feast, but captures the moment of high drama.
A little later, Pietro Dandini painted his more modest version, which is now in the Pushkin Museum, and shown here. John Martin — The English painter John Martin is best known for his apocalyptic visions expressed onto vast canvases. But following a challenge from his American artist friend Washington Allston see below before he left the UK inMartin painted three historical scenes from Babylon: The version shown here is half-sized; the original full-size painting was offered to the National Gallery but declined because of its great size.
Martin chooses a different moment in the story, and the other end of the scale as far as its pictorial scope.
The thousand lords are shown feasting in vast open-roofed halls. Above them are the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, with the Tower of Babel in the distance, and a ziggurat slightly closer.
The writing on the wall burns bright at the far left, its characters carefully made illegible in this version. The Top Tables are in the foreground, Daniel standing prominent in a black cloak explaining the meaning of the words.
Belshazzar and his royal entourage are recoiling in shock around his throne at the far right.
In going for the grandeur of the whole scene, Martin makes it more of a spectacle, but lacks the human element of the narrative.
There are no facial expressions to be seen, and the body language is all but lost in the vast scale of the image and his canvas. Although he also used a huge canvas, of over 3.
He shows Daniel, in the centre and dressed in black, explaining the meaning of the writing on the wall off the right edge of the painting to Belshazzar and his queen, at the left.
The cluster of men seen at the right are presumably the magicians and soothsayers who failed to interpret the writing before Daniel was summoned.Belshazzar's Feast was an attempt to establish Rembrandt as a painter of large, baroque history paintings.
The figures in Belshazzar's Feast are not attractive but they are shown realistically: Rembrandt has tried to capture the moment at which the banqueters stare, in amazement and terror, at the mysterious hand.
John Martin, Belshazzar's Feast, c. ; half-size sketch held by the Yale Center for British Art. Belshazzar's feast, or the story of the writing on the wall (chapter 5 in the Book of Daniel).
The story of Belshazzar, his feast, and ultimate downfall is tucked away in the relative obscurity of the Book of Daniel, in the Old Testament, and to the best of my knowledge has only inspired four significant artists to portray it in paint.
Belshazzar's feast, or the story of the writing on the wall (chapter 5 in the Book of Daniel) tells how Belshazzar holds a great feast and drinks from the vessels that had been looted in the destruction of the First Temple. A hand appears and writes on the wall.
Belshazzar and his minions were not able to decipher the writing and called for Daniel, who finally interpreted the inscription. In the Book of Daniel, chapter 5 it says: 25 And this is the writing that was written, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.
Belshazzar's Feast is an oil painting by British painter John Martin (–). It was first exhibited at the British Institution in February and won a prize of £ for the best picture. It was so popular that it needed to be protected from the crowds by a railing, and established Martin's fame.