Daebojeok gyeong (Mahāratnakūta Sūtra), Volume 32, from the Goryeo Gold-character Manuscript of the Buddhist Canon


Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

This extraordinarily rare work is the sole surviving scroll from a set of Goryeo-dynasty manuscripts reproducing the entire Buddhist canon in gold lettering on indigo paper. The massive set was commissioned as a joint offering by the Queen Dowager Cheonchu Hwangbo (997–1009) and her favorite retainer Kim Chiyang in 1006 (Tonghe 24).
Only two or three sutra manuscripts from the Goryeo period that date as far back as the eleventh century survive in either Korea or Japan, of which this scroll is the oldest. Its cover is decorated in silver paint with an arabesque design of auspicious Buddhist-style composite flowers, while the frontispiece uses the same silver paint to depict three bodhisattvas scattering flowers in sacred offering. That these paintings can be assigned a specific, early date makes them highly valuable reference works for art historians.
The manuscript is written on thick, indigo-dyed paper with a heavy, luxurious feel. The text, transcribed by one Choe Seongsak, is somewhat large in size, with powerful and well-formed characters that show the influence of Liang and Khitan writing. Even among the wider expanse of cultures using Chinese characters—China, Korea, and Japan—this scroll stands out as exceptional.
On the left edge of the frontispiece is a notation in red stating that the scroll entered the holdings of the Japanese temple of Kongōrin-ji in Ōmi province in the year 1388 (Kakei 2).

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