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Chester Beatty marks 50th anniversary of greatest gift to the nation; Ireland's post office issues commemorative stamps
Allusions to the Seven Lucky Gods: Daikoku by Yashima Gakutei, c. 1825, Japan.

DUBLIN.- When Alfred Chester Beatty died on 19 January 1968 he bequeathed his world-famous collection to the Irish people, a gift considered to be the greatest ever given to the nation. The Library, which bears his name, will mark this historic event with a special programme launched today by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan T.D. The Minister also launched a series of four commemorative postage stamps from An Post featuring material from across the Collections. The Library will present two major exhibitions this year and plans are underway to launch the Chester Beatty collections online before the end of the year.

The Minister said: “The Chester Beatty Library is a special part of Irish life. The foresight and passion of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty is to be lauded and celebrated as his gift to the nation continues to fascinate and enthral 50 years on. I am delighted to be present at the launch, today, of the commemorative stamps which pay tribute to the man who contributed so much in such a long lasting manner to the cultural landscape in Ireland.”

Born in New York in 1875, Beatty was a towering figure in the world of business. He started his career as a ‘mucker’ in the mines in Colorado, only to become a mining magnate and one of the most successful businessmen of his generation. He moved to London in 1913 and operated his mining business from there for 35 years, including during two world wars. His love of collecting lasted a lifetime, and by the time Beatty moved to Dublin after the war his collection had evolved into one of the finest private collections of rare books, manuscripts and decorative arts in the world. Chester Beatty received a state funeral when he died and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin. He was Ireland’s first honorary citizen in recognition of his extraordinary generosity.

Today the Library holds a pre-eminent position among Irish cultural institutions with 340,000 visitors last year. It has been described by the ‘Lonely Planet’ as not just the best museum in Dublin but one of the best in Europe. The Library also serves as a research centre for scholars from all over the world and has a unique role in reaching out to culturally diverse communities in Ireland.

Anniversary Programme Highlights:

In February, the Chester Beatty Annual Lecture will be delivered by Inge Reist, Director of the Center of the History of Collecting at The Frick Collection, New York, on the theme of collecting in a Gilded Age. The lecture will place Beatty’s early life and collecting activity in the context of America’s industrialisation and prosperity at the time.

Opening in March, the Library will present Miniature Masterpiece – an exhibition focusing on the famous 15th-century Coëtivy Book of Hours (prayer book), commissioned by Prigent de Coëtivy, bibliophile and Admiral of France, on the occasion of his marriage. One of the Library’s greatest treasures the book was acquired by Edith Beatty as a wedding anniversary gift for her husband, in 1919. The exhibition will feature 144 miniatures from this masterpiece of illumination, together with examples of other ‘Books of Hours’ in the Library.

In October, a major exhibition will showcase the best of Beatty’s world-famous collection. Ireland’s Greatest Gift: Chester Beatty’s World of Art will bring together a selection of treasures each with a unique story to tell. This exhibition of exceptional items will include the oldest surviving copy of all four Gospels; the earliest Qur’an by one of Islam’s greatest calligraphers; a 17th-century Japanese Chogonka Scroll and other masterpieces from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Sharing the collections and accessibility lie at the heart of the Chester Beatty’s ethos, and a major project to allow greater access to the museum’s treasures is well underway. A new website will be launched in the autumn, together with the first phase of Chester Beatty’s Collections online, an initiative with which the Library hopes to engage the whole of Ireland as well as audiences abroad. This initiative will provide a searchable catalogue of the Collections and the opportunity to explore, discover and research items of interest at any time from anywhere in the world. Fionnuala Croke, Director of the Library said: “It is important to make Chester Beatty’s gift relevant in the digital age, in tribute to our founder and benefactor who travelled the world to collect the best art and artefacts he could find”

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