Sutras with illustrations on fig leaves


This is a finely illustrated Chinese manuscript containing two Buddhist sūtras and images painted on leaves.

The text

This illustrated manuscript from China contains the text of two of the most popular Buddhist sūtras of the Mahāyāna tradition: the Heart Sūtra and the Diamond Sūtra. The inscription on the wood cover reads: ‘Buddha of Unmeasurable Long Life’. The Heart Sūtra covers one page at the beginning of the book, with text written in silver. The longer text of the Diamond Sūtra covers the rest of the item and it is written in gold. Each page of text is accompanied with one of thirty illustrations representing various religious scenes, including Buddhist saints, priests and protectors.

The material

Each illustration is painted on a leaf of the ficus religiosa or Bodhi tree, a species of fig native to Asia. This tree is considered sacred in Buddhist tradition for it is said to be the tree under which Siddhartha Gautama, later known as Buddha, attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, India. The leaves are heart shaped with a long tip, which allows rain to fall off easily during tropical rainstorms. For painting, the leaves are soaked in water until the green cells disintegrate and only the frame remains. They are then dried and backed with paper. The blue colour of the background is often used to give a nice visual contrast to the sparkling colours used on the leaves, and the gold or silver of the text.

View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.

Full title:
Two of the Sacred Books of the Buddhists; in Chinese; written in gold and silver characters on an azure ground, with numerous illuminations, beautifully executed, on leaves of the sacred fig-tree. Folio. [11,746.]
18th–19th century, China
Manuscript / Concertina album
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Add MS 11746

Full catalogue details

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