Folded book with illustrated frontispiece; gold and silver on paper (mulberry)
Book: 20.6 x 43.7 cm (8 1/8 x 17 3/16 in.); Each page: 20.7 x 11 cm (8 1/8 x 4 5/16 in.)
The Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund 1994.25
The pristine condition of this manuscript indicates that it was rarely used after its creation, revealing that the act of making a manuscript rather than that of reading it was the main religious goal.
This illuminated manuscript presents one part of a multivolume sacred Buddhist text. In medieval Korea, Buddhism was the most popular religion among common people and the upper classes alike. This elegant folding book was produced at the request of a high-ranking official as a way of proving religious faith. It is written in gold (the frontispiece and borders) and silver (the calligraphy) ink on specially colored paper. The golden brushwork of the frontispiece depicts a temple courtyard filled with buildings, a garden, and a fence in front of which stands a group of stately figures. The tallest figure, Buddha of the Future (Maitreya), addresses the young kneeling pilgrim who asks questions about the path towards spiritual awakening. This story is written in the columns of bold, silver text following the illustration. Each column contains 17 characters, each carefully brushed onto the paper so as to visually relate to the characters above and below. This is the work by rigorously trained Buddhist monks in whose temples some of the world's greatest libraries existed in the 1200s and 1300s. So prized were their talents that these scribes traveled to China to demonstrate their skills. The Japanese avidly collected the texts too, so much so that most Korean sutras reside in that country today. This example is one of only five or six to be found in Western collections.
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