The Chester Beatty Library: a treasure trove of art from the Middle East, Asia, North Africa and Europe.

May 2014

Free guided tours in Arabic on June 6th and July 4th at 3pm

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, one of the greatest financial entrepreneurs of the 20th century, is today best remembered as the founder of the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. This world-renowned institution is both an art museum and library exhibiting an unparalleled collection of manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, rare books and decorative arts from countries across Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

Beatty was an American mining magnate and one of the most prolific collectors of the 20th century. His vast collection numbers over 30,000 items and includes representative samples of the world’s artistic and religious heritage from about 2700 BC to the present century.

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Double-Page Frontispiece, Qur’an, 1806 (AH 1221), Turkey

Born in New York in 1875, Beatty graduated as a mining engineer from Columbia University in 1898 and headed west, starting as a ‘mucker’, shoveling rock in mines in Denver, Colorado.  An avid collector of minerals, Chinese snuff bottles and stamps since childhood, Beatty began to collect more widely as an adult, buying European and Persian manuscripts. His interests found a new direction when, in 1914, he visited Egypt and bought some decorated copies of the Qur’an in the bazaars. A journey to Asia in 1917 added Japanese and Chinese paintings to his interests. His eye was drawn to richly illustrated material, fine bindings and beautiful calligraphy, but he was also deeply committed to preserving texts for their historic value.

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Begum Samru’s Household, c. 1820, Delhi, India 

Chester Beatty made a significant contribution to supplies of strategic raw materials for the Allies during the Second World War, for which he was later knighted. In 1950, he decided to move to Ireland and built a library for his art collection, which opened in 1954. In 1957 Chester Beatty became Ireland’s first honorary citizen and was accorded a State funeral upon his death in 1968 - the only civilian in Ireland ever to have earned this honour.

He bequeathed his entire collection to a trust for the benefit of the public and today the legacy of this unique and unparalleled collector thrives in the historic setting of Dublin Castle.

Over 6,000 individual items, mainly manuscripts and single-page paintings and calligraphies, make up the Library’s Islamic Collections. Included are more than 260 complete and fragmentary Qur’ans, some dating from the late eighth and ninth centuries and including the work of the leading calligraphers of the Islamic world.

Today, the Library welcomes over a quarter of a million visitors every year to view its permanent and regular temporary exhibitions. Visitors are often surprised and delighted to find such a unique and rare collection on view in Dublin and Lonely Planet has described the Library as ‘not just the best museum in Ireland but one of the best in Europe.

Admission to all of the Library’s exhibitions is free and regular workshops, lectures and tours are scheduled. Further details online at