King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his lords,
with whom he drank.
Under the influence of the wine,
he ordered the gold and silver vessels
which Nebuchadnezzar, his father,
had taken from the temple in Jerusalem,
to be brought in so that the king, his lords,
his wives and his entertainers might drink from them.
When the gold and silver vessels
taken from the house of God in Jerusalem had been brought in,
and while the king, his lords, his wives and his entertainers
were drinking wine from them,
they praised their gods of gold and silver,
bronze and iron, wood and stone.
Suddenly, opposite the lampstand,
the fingers of a human hand appeared,
writing on the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace.
When the king saw the wrist and hand that wrote, his face blanched;
his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook,
and his knees knocked.
Then Daniel was brought into the presence of the king.
The king asked him, “Are you the Daniel, the Jewish exile,
whom my father, the king, brought from Judah?
I have heard that the Spirit of God is in you,
that you possess brilliant knowledge and extraordinary wisdom.
I have heard that you can interpret dreams and solve difficulties;
if you are able to read the writing and tell me what it means,
you shall be clothed in purple,
wear a gold collar about your neck,
and be third in the government of the kingdom.”
Daniel answered the king:
“You may keep your gifts, or give your presents to someone else;
but the writing I will read for you, O king,
and tell you what it means.
You have rebelled against the Lord of heaven.
You had the vessels of his temple brought before you,
so that you and your nobles, your wives and your entertainers,
might drink wine from them;
and you praised the gods of silver and gold,
bronze and iron, wood and stone,
that neither see nor hear nor have intelligence.
But the God in whose hand is your life breath
and the whole course of your life, you did not glorify.
By him were the wrist and hand sent, and the writing set down.
“This is the writing that was inscribed:
MENE, TEKEL, and PERES.
These words mean:
MENE, God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it;
TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting;
PERES, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
Danie, Chapter 5
From the National Gallery website:
Rembrandt’s source for this painting, the Old Testament Book of Daniel (5: 1-6, 25-8), tells of a banquet Belshazzar, King of Babylon, gave for his nobles. At this banquet he blasphemously served wine in the sacred vessels his father Nebuchadnezzar 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, yet mistranscribed one of the characters and arranged them in columns, rather than right to left, as Hebrew is written. The picture, painted in about 1635, is an example of Rembrandt’s attempt to establish himself as a painter of large-scale Baroque history paintings.
Rembrandt’s handling of painting materials and his painting technique in Belshazzar’s Feast are both exceptional and do not compare to any of his other works. The palette of this painting is unusually rich encompassing such pigments as vermilion, smalt, lead-tin-yellow, yellow and red lakes, ochres and azurite.