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Rare treasures go on display for first time at Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle
T is for Travel. L’isole pi famose del mondo (The most famous islands of the world). By Thomaso Porcacchi (c. 1530–85). Venice: Simon Galignani & Girolamo Porro, 1576 Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.

DUBLIN.- A new exhibition at Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle, displays works rarely or never before seen in public. Chester Beatty’s A - Z: from Amulet to Zodiac, offers visitors an alphabetical tour of this world-renowned collection. Each letter of the alphabet is matched to a word that represents an item in the collection and the objects chosen explore the threads that link cultures across the Western, Islamic and East Asian worlds. It is the first time the Library has gathered these remarkable works together in a single exhibition and it reveals unique and magical tales. Highlights include Medieval Books of Hours, Jade snuff bottles, a record of Marie Antoinette's trial and execution, ancient manuscripts on papyrus and vellum.

The exhibition, which was officially opened by An Taoiseach, (Ireland's prime minister) Enda Kenny, is free to visitors and will be supported by a programme of lectures and workshops.

An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, said: "Chester Beatty’s collection is one of the greatest gifts this country ever received and his library and museum is visited by over a quarter of a million visitors each year. The range of this new exhibition is genuinely staggering. From Demons to Kings, from Gardens to Wings, this is an aesthetic journey where each individual object will speak to every visitor in a different way. Time spent in the Chester Beatty is a really enjoyable opportunity for quiet meditations among powerful texts and artefacts from east and west, presented beautifully and curated with care, expertise and passion."

Director of the Library, Fionnuala Croke said: “With this exhibition, we wanted to showcase the diversity of Chester Beatty’s remarkable collection and we have included some surprises. The Collections Team worked together to make the selection and we were spoilt for choice. Chester Beatty was one of the greatest collectors of the 20th century, and the exhibition also allowed us to display a number of works for the first time.”


Books of Hours, produced for private devotion, were the bestsellers of late medieval Europe. One of the treasures of Chester Beatty’s collection is the Cotivy Hours originally commissioned by Prigent de Cotivy on the occasion of his marriage in 1444.

Jade, is considered to be the most powerful and mystical material used in Asian art. Beatty collected more than 950 snuff bottles, many of them jade.

A bound volume of the Revolutionary Tribunal’s records which follow the 1793 trial of Marie-Antoinette – right up to the moment she mounted the steps to the guillotine.

A 1576 guide to the ‘most famous islands of the world’ includes a chapter on Ireland with one of the earliest printed maps of the island and a less-than-flattering description of the Irish.

Noh is the oldest dramatic art form in the world and the exhibition includes several theatrical masks.

The exhibition, which has been in planning for almost a year, reveals new information about Chester Beatty’s life. Born in New York City, on the site where the Rockefeller Center stands today, he made his money from mining - originally as a ‘mucker’, working his way up to become a mining magnate. Beatty re-located to London where he set up a mining conglomerate with interests in many countries. During his career and his travels he collected rare books, manuscripts, paintings and decorative objects. He moved to Ireland in 1950 (somewhat frustrated by post-war Britain) and built a Library for his collection. On his death he entrusted it to the Irish people. He was Ireland's first honorary citizen and was given a state funeral.

This A- Z journey shows the diversity and universality of Beatty’s legacy, starting with Amulets and finishing with the Zodiac. From the Western Collections, early illuminated manuscripts (H is for Hours), Egyptian biblical papyri (P is for Papyrus), Irish mezzotints (Q is for Queen), French Revolutionary prints (R is for Revolution), examples of vellum books and bindings (V is for Vellum), and Russian icons (W is for Wings), leave no doubt as to the multiplicity of this part of the holdings.

The East Asian Collections are represented by mandarin squares (E is for Embroidery), fans (F is for Fan), an assortment of snuff bottles (J is for Jade), exquisite lacquer incense boxes (L is for Lacquer), netsuke and surimono (N is for Noh) and ukiyo-e prints (U is for Ukiyo- e). Y is for Yurt and an engraving of a victory banquet is a fascinating example of an 18th-century collaboration between the Chinese Emperor and European artists.

In large part, it is the Islamic material that Beatty acquired throughout his life that has established the Library’s international reputation. The Islamic Collections comprise outstanding examples of calligraphy (C is for Calligraphy) and decoration (I is for Illumination) and demonstrate the importance of figural imagery in the courtly arts of India and the Middle East (G is for Garden, and K is for King). The important role of science in the Islamic world is also represented with examples from Chester Beatty’s Arabic Manuscripts (O is for Optics and Z is for Zodiac).

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