Rembrandt van Rijn’s masterpiece, Belshazzar’s Feast, is an oil painting that measures 167.6 cm × 209.2 cm (66.0 in × 82.4 in). It was painted somewhere between 1635 and 1638 and is a representation of baroque history painting. Rembrandt used the story sourced from the Old Testament Book of Daniel (5:1-6,25-8) as his inspiration.
Belshazzar’s Feast tells the story of the eponymous king who held a banquet for his nobles but committed blasphemy against God by using sacred vessels taken from Solomon’s Temple to drink wine during the party. The writing on the wall challenges Belshazzar to interpret its meaning, which according to Daniel predicts that he will be killed that same night.
The huge range of colors and brushwork techniques used are characteristic of Rembrandt’s style; for example, smalt, lead-tin-yellow, yellow and red lakes, vermilion, ochres and azurite can all be found within it. The painting features vivid depictions of light sources such as candles illuminating the faces at each end of the table while others remain in darkness.
This work marked Rembrandt’s emergence as a successful painter with a large-scale history painting and remains one of his most recognizable pieces today. Overall it represents Rembrandt’s ability to portray ambivalent emotions through rich color palettes infused with dramatic contrast between light and dark tones showcasing his great mastery over color theory techniques in conjuring up this impactful image on canvas.