- Amitābha Sūtra
Illuminated manuscript of a Buddhist sūtra. Paradise scene, spread over two leaves, on the frontispiece to the Amitābha Sūtra. Śākyamuni flanked by Bodhisattvas and monks preaching to deities and other Buddhas, while two Bodhisattvas welcome souls to paradise. Painted and written in gold and silver on indigo-dyed paper by a monk-scribe for his mother. Inscribed. Stored in paulownia wood box.
- Painted in: Korea
- Found/Acquired: Korea
- Height: 22 centimetres
- Width: 8.5 centimetres
- Width: 17.6 centimetres (Displayed open)
- Depth: 1.1 centimetres
Inscription Positionleft to the image
Inscription CommentThe text, Kumārajlva's Chinese translation, in silver lettering, was written by a monk called Ch'onggo for his mother's spiritual benefit.
This is an example of the large numbers of such magnificent Buddhist manuscripts produced during the Koryo dynasty, when the hand-copying of Buddhist sutras (sermons attributed to the Buddha) was regarded as one of the most meritorious deeds. It required great accuracy and skill in calligraphy. Such hand-written manuscripts ('sanyong') were therefore commissioned by devotees with the aim of earning merit and thus being reborn in a better state or in paradise, released from all wordly suffering. Illuminated Buddhist sutras were produced in China and Japan as well, but in the Koryo dynasty Buddhism reached such a highpoint and artistic creativity was concentrated in such a way that remarkably beautiful works of art were created. Most of the extant Koryo illuminated sutra manuscripts are now in Japan and are little seen. The British Museum is fortunate to have one of the few examples outside Japan and Korea.
The folding, concertina-like booklet format was probably influenced by Chinese woodblock-printed sutras of the Song dynasty. It is thought that this style originated with the early Indian sutras written on pothi leaves, as opposed to the traditional Chinese handscroll form.
The frontispieces of these manuscripts are usually decorated with an illustration of a Buddha preaching to an assembly. This is a painted vision of the words of the scripture and is meticulously drawn entirely in gold, using very thin 'iron wire' lines. This presents a dazzling scene on the dark colour background and is usually framed with Buddhist symbols, such as the 'vajra' (thunderbolt, symbolising the indestructibility of the Buddha's teaching) and the cakra (wheel, symbolizing the Buddha Law).
Not on display
Exhibited: 2006-2008, Jan-July, BM, G67/Case 7 San Francisco, Asian Art Museum; Goryeo Dynasty: Korea's Age of Enlightment; 18 Oct 2003-11 Jan 2004
- Associated Title: Amitabha Sutra
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Object reference number: RFC3409
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