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Telling Images of China

Narrative and Figure Paintings, 15th-20th Century, from the Shanghai Museum

12 February  to 2 May 2010


The Chester Beatty Library is delighted to present this major exhibition of thirty-eight paintings from one of the world’s finest collections of Chinese art, the Shanghai Museum. The exhibition includes scrolls and albums by artists active in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and the early Republican period after 1912. Each of these ‘story paintings’ retells or illustrates a tale from folk and religious lore, oral and official history, poetry or literature. The exhibition is presented through four sometimes overlapping, sometimes interweaving themes, namely ‘crossings’ – stories about exiles, loyalists and rustics; the supernatural world of popular religion; models and exemplars in history; and finally, emperor-concubine and scholar-beauty romances. There are artworks which illustrate texts inscribed on or beside the paintings themselves. In other cases, the stories illustrated are part of oral history, so that the paintings served as visual props for the viewer to retell popular tales. Collectively, these artworks give a taste of China’s rich mythology and lyric tradition, and show how successive generations of artists gave new life to learning, belief and leisure in pictorial images fit for their own times. Telling Images of China coincides with the run-up to the World Expo in Shanghai in the summer of 2010, and is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, generously supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, an international scholarly conference (30 April-1 May) and a programme of public events. For more details on the conference please click here.

For the first time, the Chester Beatty Library offered an additional virtual version of our Telling Images of China exhibition, including all 38 works displayed in the gallery. Web visitors were able to pan and zoom over high-quality images of the works, and to read commentary on selected images. It is hoped that this online exhibition enhanced visitor's in-gallery experience by allowing them to examine and explore the works on display both before and after their visit, in addition to providing those unable to attend with a glimpse into the exhibition.   

In association with the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dublin City.