Manuscript Cover

11th/12th century
Southern Tibet
Pigment and gold on wood
26 by 74 cm - 10 ΒΌ by 29 in

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A pair of exceptionally elegant mythicalbeasts graces the center of this unusual manuscript cover. Turned toward one another, the goldencreatures, half dragon, half griffon, are featured within an elaborate, foliatepattern. Escaping from their openmouths, graceful tongues of fire intertwine the animals with the scrollwork inwhich they are suspended. A beadedborder of pearls surrounds the inner section of the frieze, separating it fromthe outer section which is also decorated by a similar openwork design.[1] The entirety of the gilded portion iscarved in low relief against a brilliant red background.

Indian monks and scholars were responsiblefor the dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet, largely due to the beautifullyillustrated Buddhist texts that they brought to the country. As early as the seventh century, thesetexts had begun to be translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan. By the twelfth century, the IndianSanskrit canon had been completely written in the Tibetan language.[2] Primarily inspired by eastern Indianmedieval book covers which consisted of two wooden covers on either side of aseries of palm leaf or birch bark pages, Tibetan artists took license in theircontinuation of the tradition. Tibetan manuscript covers were often larger in format than their Indiancounterparts, largely due to the fact that their folios tended to be of strongpaper which allowed for greater size. Also, the covers were greatly diverse in their innovative and exuberantscrollwork designs. It is onlynatural, given that the manuscript covers were meant to house sacred texts,that Tibetan artists were inspired to create truly beautiful and unique workssuch as the present example.


[1] The pattern of this particular book cover is reminiscent of Palaspiral work seen in both stone and bronze Pala sculpture.

[2] See the introduction by David Weldon to Rossi & Rossi (1996),exhibition catalogue, p. 1.