CBL | Exhibitions | Blue
Skip Navigation

Blue

26 February to 18 April 2004

In this exhibition, writer Colm Tóibín presents a personal selection from the Chester Beatty Library collections, focusing on the colour blue. Tóibín searched the Library’s collections for artefacts that are both 'blue and beautiful'.  There are wonderful manuscripts, books, art and artefacts on display from many cultures and countries including East Asia, the Middle East and Europe and from many centuries. According to Tóibín: 'The criteria for their selection was, to start with, their colour - blues of all types, many of them dazzling - and then their beauty, which is astonishing.'

The exhibition was opened by the internationally acclaimed artist, Michael Craig-Martin.

Extract from Colm Toibin’s essay on Blue:
We look at studies of Islamic angels, Christian angels, Japanese birds, western birds. Some painters loved the straight lines of architecture and buildings; others the curve of calligraphy and of the human body, the human face. There is real pleasure now in putting the Chinese beside the Italian, the Japanese beside the Islamic, the Armenian beside the English. What separated these workers in art was greater than what united them. The imagination at work is always alone; no matter how strong a tradition or sense of community. The mind making images does so singly, in moments of fierce concentration, suddenly, as though this had never been done before, as though the task of now were the only task there ever would be.

What unites these works from so many different cultures is the collector’s eye. And they are united too for us looking at them, knowing that this colour, this lovely blueness, used in all of them, does not come from on high but rather it comes from history, it was developed by trade and commerce, including the slave trade. What seems miraculous and timeless was shaped by complex human forces. This idea makes the works seem almost defenceless as they wallow and indulge themselves in troubled light, alert to their own beauty and fragility and strange heritage. They are in time and out of time as the enfolding shadows grow around them in the old city.