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Adorning the Words of Man and God: Illuminated Islamic Manuscripts

16 February to 29 May 1999

In the terminology of Islamic art, ‘illumination’ refers to the swirling arabesques, burgeoning blossoms and leaves, and intricate geometric patterns that adorn the pages of a manuscript.  These are the ‘tools’ of the Islamic illuminator.  Finely rendered in brilliant colours and gold, they have been used throughout the centuries to embellish the words of both God and man.

With relatively few exceptions, exhibitions and published studies of Islamic manuscripts  examine miniature (figural) painting, and Chester Beatty’s collection certainly includes some of the finest and most stunning Islamic miniatures in existence. But its manuscripts  also include a vast and brilliant array of illuminations. Through the thirty-three manuscripts and single folios on display, the visitor is introduced to the basic functions, types and motifs of illuminations, while the enlarged reproductions that accompany several of the manuscripts provide a glimpse of the delights to be found on other pages hidden within the manuscript.  The shamsas, headings, frontispieces and decorated colophons on display span the years from the 9th to the 19th centuries.  Although it is the work of Persian illuminators that dominates, illuminations produced in India, Turkey and Egypt are also  included.