Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Belshazzar’s feast, as painted by British Victorian artist John Martin in 1812, is a panoramic spectacle. The heavens storm and clash, a supernatural light flashes, and masses of people are overcome by panic.

From the dazzling white light and prophetic words, the eye moves to the dark-robed figure of Daniel, whose gestures as he interprets the writing on the wall mirror those of a statue of Jupiter entwined by a serpent, standing far behind him. Looking beyond, over the mile-long dance floor and up past the mix of Indian, Egyptian and Babylonian architecutre, we see gardens, temples and the Tower of Babel. It is a masterful feat of perspective, in the artist’s words, “a perspective of light, and … a perspective of feeling.”