John Martin was a 19th century British artist noted for his dramatic depictions of disasters and/or impending disasters.
Here are two of his interpretations of the Biblical story of Belshazzar’s Feast, in which the arrogant ruler of Babylon shows his disdain for the enslaved population of Israelites by using their sacred vessels — stolen from their temple — to serve wine at a huge celebratory feast.
A hand appears and foretells Belshazzar’s destruction and punishment for his arrogance by writing on the wall (from which we get the modern usage of the phrase) in cryptic glowing inscriptions.
Belshazzar is unable to read the writing on the wall. The prophet Daniel is summoned to interpret the inscriptions, and informs Belshazzar of their meaning. Belshazzar, unwilling to be taught humility, ignores the warning and soon after meets his fate.
The mezzotint is a plate from Martin’s “Illustrations to the Bible” and is in the collection of the Tate, Britain. The painting is in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, and is actually a small version of a monumentally large painting that is in a private collection.
I actually think the dark composition of the mezzotint is more successful at conveying the sense of dread and impending doom.