Ming Dynasty Buddhist manuscripts sell for record $30.4M

Sotheby’s Nicholas Chow with the ‘Imperial Wisdom Sutras,’ which sold Tuesday for $30,428,852 in Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

HONG KONG – A new auction record was established today at Sotheby’s for two sets of Buddhist sutra manuscripts from the Ming Dynasty. Considered to be the most important Buddhist manuscript ever to have appeared at auction, the Imperial Wisdom Sutras sold for HK$238,807,500 / US$30,428,852 / £21,656,005.

This outstanding historical relic is a legacy of the Golden Age of the Ming Dynasty, made by imperial order of the Ming Emperor Xuande in the first part of the 15th century.

Preserved in pristine condition, the set of sutras is the only surviving example outside of the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Originally recorded in a Kyoto aristocratic collection in 1917, they remained out of sight until the ground-breaking Ming exhibition at the British Museum in 2014.

Buddhist sutras are canonical scriptures that render the teachings of the Buddha, which were taken over from India and copied. Their copying and propagation were considered a meritorious practice, and when such deeds were performed by an emperor, the resulting works were of the highest standard in terms of the materials used and the artists and craftsmen employed.

The sutras comprise 10 extraordinarily high-quality albums of the Prajnaparamita Sutra (Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom), handwritten and illustrated in gold ink on indigo-colored paper which has been treated on the upper side to obtain a shiny black, lacquer-like surface.