Belshazzar's Feast

Jan Muller Netherlandish
Publisher Harmen Jansz. Muller Netherlandish

Not on view

The story of Belshazzar’s Feast is from the Book of Daniel, chapter 5 and describes a lavish banquet given by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. The host and guests converse lewdly and blaspheme God, all while eating and drinking from sacred plates and vessels rescued from the Old Temple in Jerusalem, and thus polluting them. Suddenly a disembodied hand appears and writes a mysterious phrase on the wall: ‘MANE THETEL PHARES.’ Shocked by the event, they send for the prophet Daniel to decipher the meaning of the words. He explains that they literally mean that God weighed Belshazzar’s behavior and found it wanting, and that therefore his kingdom was to be destroyed. Later that night the king is murdered, and Darius the Mede becomes ruler of Babylon. The Latin verses below the image warn the viewer against similar blasphemy and sinful behavior.

In the print Belshazzar sits with his back to the viewer, staring at the wall where the writing has just appeared above the door. He is in half shadow and only his shoulder and outstretched hand are fully illuminated. Above the table is a remarkable chandelier with four burning candles and four statues of naked nymphs holding lighted torches. In the foreground to the right, a large, elaborate ewer on a plate, no doubt one of the treasures taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, also gleams in the light.

Jan Muller was one of the most sought-after Mannerist printmakers, engraving compositions of the leading artists of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In the mid- to late 1590s and early 1600s, he made a handful of spectacular night scenes, including the Last Supper after Gillis Coignet (2018.839.109), the Dead Christ Lamented by an Angel after Jacopo Ligozzi (61.658.11), The Raising of Lazarus after Abraham Bloemart (49.95.578) and two original designs by Muller, the Adoration of the Magi (51.501.6340 and 67.810.2) and the present work. Instead of the flamboyant engraving technique he used in his prints after the Dutch Mannerists and artists from the court of Prague, these prints are characterized by longer, finer lines and extremely close cross-hatching to create the dense blackness from which the highlights can shine. Wider spaced hatching and cross-hatching provide the middle tones.

Belshazzar's Feast, Jan Muller (Netherlandish, Amsterdam 1571–1628 Amsterdam), Engraving; New Holl.'s second state of three

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.