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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

    • Length: 21.7 centimetres
    • Width: 8.5 centimetres (each page)
    • Width: 17.6 centimetres (Displayed open)
    • Width: 263.5 centimetres (total)
    • 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).2016 National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage catalogue entries:

    'This illuminated manuscript of the Amitabha Sutra, is one of the foundational text of Pure Land Buddhism. It is an album made of indigo-dyed paper in a concertina format and its cover is decorated with a motif of three mandala flowers with vines drawn with gold and silver. The title of the sutra is written at the center of the front cover.
    The sutra text is inscribed in silver while the frontispiece, which depicts Amitabha delivering a sermon to his followers, is elaborately drawn in gold inside a border composed of diamond scepters (vajra). The entire illustration denotes the palace of Pure Land by depicting a palace building with decorative tiles and “treasure trees” arranged around the principal Buddha. The extremely delicate and dense
    golden lines show that this illuminated manuscript was produced in the Goryeo period (918-1392). The final chapter contains a dedicatory inscription revealing that the manuscript was produced in 1341 by a monk named Chong-go (聰古) who, according to a Goryeo manuscript of the Lotus Sutra (1340) housed in the Saga Prefectural Museum in Japan, was probably a professional scribe.'

    '『불설아미타경』은 정토삼부경의 하나로서, 중세 이후 정토신앙의 근본 경전으로 존중되었다. 이 사경은 절첩본切帖本 형식으로 모두 31면이 이어져있다. 표지에는 세 송이의 보상당초문을 금분과 은분으로 그리고 그 가운데에 위패 모양의 칸을 두어 제목을 썼다. 바탕은 쪽으로 색을 들인 감지紺紙이고, 경문은 은으로, 변상도는 금으로 그렸다. 표지 다음에 이어지는 변상도는 테두리를 구획하여 금강저를 연속적으로 배치하고 그 안에 아미타여래의 설법 장면과 화생한 중생을 맞이하는 성중聖衆의 모습을 표현하였다. 배경은 서방극락세계의 궁이다. 전돌과 난간이 있는 화려한 전각이 암시되어있으며 곳곳에 여러 그루의 보수寶樹가 배치된 점이 독특하다. 금분으로 여백이 없을 정도로 꼼꼼하게 묘사하여 장식성을 높이는 수법은 고려시대 사경변상도의 특징으로 손꼽힌다. 경전 말미에는 비구 총고聰古의 발원문과 지정원년至正元年[1341]의 기년이 남아있다. 총고가 1340년 사경한 『묘법연화경妙法蓮華經』이 일본의 사가박물관[佐賀博物館]에 남아있는 점으로 미루어 비구 총고는 사경승이었을 것으로 추정된다.'


  • Bibliography

    • Zwalf 1985 348 bibliographic details
    • National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage 2016 Cat. 234; p.349, no.662 bibliographic details
    • 국립문화재연구소 2016 Cat. 234; p.349, no.662 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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