Painted wooden bookcover

From the Central Regions, Tibet
13th century AD

Buddhist manuscripts kept in the monasteries of eastern India, Nepal and Tibet were enclosed between wooden book-covers and wrapped in cloth. Both the manuscript pages of palm-leaf or paper and the wooden covers were often illustrated. This wooden book-cover is carved on the outside and painted on the inside. It is one of the best surviving examples of manuscript covers in early Tibetan art.

Palm-leaf manuscripts in eastern India and Nepal were always long and thin. The greater width of this cover indicates that it was used to enclose larger paper pages in the Tibetan manner. The carved wooden outside of the cover depicts Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, seated at the centre in the earth-witness gesture, with rows of further seated Buddhas either side.

The brilliantly painted interior is divided into three panels. The central section shows the seated four-armed goddess Prajnaparamita. She holds a book and a vajra and makes the gesture of teaching. She sits on an elaborate throne flanked by attendant bodhisattvas. The two adjacent panels are divided into nine squares, with a bodhisattva or lama in each one. As the 'goddess of perfect wisdom', Prajnaparamita holds a key place in the wisdom literature of Mahayana Buddhism.

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More information


M.M. Rhie and R.A.F. Thurman, Wisdom and compassion: the sac (London, Thames and Hudson, 1996)

W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)


Height: 71.800 cm
Width: 26.700 cm
Thickness: 2.800 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1973.5-14.1


Brooke Sewell Fund


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