Exhibition offers snapshot into the three worlds of Chester Beatty

Visitors invited to see a representative A to Z of western, east Asian and Islamic culture

Director Fionnuala Croke with ancient books at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin for the exhibition of rare works, A to Z, From Amulet to Zodiac, which opened yesterday. Photograph: Frank Miller

Director Fionnuala Croke with ancient books at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin for the exhibition of rare works, A to Z, From Amulet to Zodiac, which opened yesterday. Photograph: Frank Miller

Thu, Jul 10, 2014, 18:59

For those who have wondered about the Chester Beatty Library collection but never went to see it, a new exhibition offers a snapshot of the more than 30,000 artefacts housed there, including an account of the trial of Marie Antoinette and one of the first tour guides of Ireland.

The exhibition of 26 items offers a glimpse of life and culture in western, Islamic and east Asian worlds, the three sectors covered by the broader collection. The items, arranged A to Z, offer visitors a tour of this world-renowned collection at the Dublin Castle facility.

Naturally under B the Beatty family history is displayed. Chester Beatty, born in New York in 1875, made his fortune in mining, originally as a “mucker” but working his way up to becoming a magnate. During his career he moved first to London and then to Ireland in 1950, taking his collection with him. He left the library to the State when he died in 1968.

Included in the exhibition is a volume of the French revolutionary tribunal which follows the trial of Marie-Antoinette up to the moment she mounted the steps to the guillotine.

Also featured is a 1576 guide to the “most famous islands of the world”, including a less than flattering description of Ireland.

The east Asian elements of the collection are represented by fans, jade and lacquer incense boxes.

Representing the western cultural elements are early illuminated manuscripts, Egyptian biblical papyri, and French revolutionary prints depicting Marie Antoinette’s efforts to persuade her husband to leave France for Austria.

The Islamic material that Beatty acquired made his collection world famous and comprises outstanding examples of calligraphy and decoration. They also demonstrate the importance of figural imagery in the courtly arts of India and the Middle East.

The important role of science in the Islamic world is represented by examples from Chester Beatty’s Arabic manuscripts.

The exhibition runs at the Chester Beatty Library until February.