Who resisted and campaigned for abolition?

Belshazzar's Feast

Samuel Colman (1780-1845), About 1833
Oil on canvas

Object number 1.95
Given by J Mellor, 1895

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Belshazzar's Feast

This painting shows a scene from the biblical story of the feast of Belshazzar, last king of Babylon, as told in the Old Testament Book of Daniel.

Drunken guests lie slumped at the table, while musicians play on the balconies high above. Golden vessels line the tables, taken by Belshazzar's father Nebuchadnezzar from the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. In drinking from these sacred vessels, Belshazzar has scorned God and he is shown, seated on his golden throne, drawing back in fear as ‘the fingers of a man's hand' begin to write on the wall, high up on the curtain to the left. The writing on the wall prophesies the end of his decadent and immoral kingdom and on the right, the soldiers of Cyrus, King of the Medes and Persians, cut their way into the hall.

We know very little about this painting, but it is probably, in part, a plea for the end of slavery. Samuel Colman was a member of a non-conformist chapel in Bristol and specialised in paintings with an apocalyptic theme. Non-conformists opposed the monarchy and the established church, in this case the Church of England, and supported a range of radical political causes in the 1700s and early 1800s. One of the most important of these was the campaign to abolish the slave trade and the institution of slavery. This was particularly pertinent in Bristol which had been one of the centres of the British slave trade.

Belshazzar's Feast was probably painted in the early 1830s, just before parliament finally abolished slavery in British territories. Cyrus, who captured Babylon, also released the Jews from captivity. The link between the enslavement of Jews in the Bible and the enslavement of Africans was common in contemporary religious and political writing about slavery.

This information was provided by curators from Gallery Oldham.