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Amitābha Sūtra

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Amitābha Sūtra
  • Description

    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.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1341
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 22 centimetres
    • Width: 8.5 centimetres
    • Width: 17.6 centimetres (Displayed open)
    • Depth: 1.1 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

        left to the image
      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Comment

        The text, Kumārajlva's Chinese translation, in silver lettering, was written by a monk called Ch'onggo for his mother's spiritual benefit.
  • Curator's comments

    Portal 2000:
    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).


  • Bibliography

    • Zwalf 1985 348 bibliographic details
    • Portal 2000 figure 44 bibliographic details
    • Pemberton 2002 page 69. bibliographic details
    • Kim 2003 Plate 30, pp. 96-104 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    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 names

  • Associated titles

    • Associated Title: Amitabha Sutra
  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department


  • Registration number


COMPASS Title: Frontispiece to an illuminated manuscript of the Amitabha Sutra


COMPASS Title: Frontispiece to an illuminated manuscript of the Amitabha Sutra

Image description



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