10. Manuscript Cover with Buddhist Symbols

12th/13th Century
Gilt-copper repoussé
7 by 26½ in. (17.7 by 67.2 cm.)

Christie’s, New York, March 21, 2001, no. 113, illus.
European Private Collection

The present example is a masterpiece of early repoussé work.  The cover is finely modeled with a large lotus scroll stem supporting a pair of crossed fly-whisks flanking a jewel-tipped scepter on a lotus base at the center, all enclosed by a beaded rim and flaming scroll border.

For a similar example in gilt-copper repousse in the Bordier Collection see Art Sacré du Tibet, Collection Alain Bordier, 2013, no. 52; also compare Amy Heller, Tibetan Art, 1999, cat. no. 37, with a stylistically-related scroll border still heavily influenced by Indian prototypes of floral and leafy scrollwork.

Indian monks and scholars were responsible for the dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet, largely due to the beautifully illustrated Buddhist texts that they brought to the country.  As early as the seventh century, these texts had begun to be translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan.  By the twelfth century, the Indian Sanskrit canon had been completely written in the Tibetan language.  For Tibetan Buddhists, books are a divine presence in which the Buddha lives and reveals himself, and they are venerated and handled with the utmost respect.

Primarily inspired by eastern Indian medieval book covers which consisted of two wooden covers on either side of a series of palm leaf or birch bark pages, Tibetan artists took license in their continuation of the tradition.  Tibetan manuscript covers were often larger in format than their Indian counterparts, largely due to the fact that their folios tended to be of strong paper which allowed for greater size.  Also, the covers were greatly diverse in their innovative and exuberant scrollwork designs.  It is only natural, given that the manuscript covers were meant to house sacred texts, that Tibetan artists were inspired to create truly beautiful and unique works such as the present example.  In turn, Tibetan innovations such as the covers’ large size and amount of embellishment later influenced the covers of Mongolian and Chinese books.