The Lost Wisdom Sutra — Rare Chinese Manuscript Expected to Fetch HK$90m at Sotheby's Hong Kong

Sotheby's has prepared a wide-range of exceptional offerings for the coming spring sales in Hong Kong. One of the highlights is a treasure from the Golden Age of Xuande — two sets of highly important Leporello Albums of Illuminated Wisdom Sutra — which is also the only surviving example of outside of the National Palace Museum, Taiwan. It is estimated at HK$90m.

Buddhist Sutras are canonical scriptures that render the teachings of the Buddha, which were taken over from India and translated. Their copying and propagation — like the commissioning of Buddhist images — is considered a meritorious practice. When such deeds are performed by an emperor, the resulting works are inevitably of highest standard in terms of the materials used and the artists and craftsmen employed.

During the Ming Dynasty, the Xuande Emperor (1426-1435) commissioned an esteemed monk Huijin to supervise the copying project of the four major Buddhist Sutras. These two sets of albums from the Prajnaparamita Sutra, the Sutra of Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom, were made during that time. These albums, executed in liquid gold on indigo-coloured goat-brain ritual paper, reflect the breathtaking level of imperially sponsored artefacts in the first decades of the 15th century.

Portrait of Xuanzang, Tokyo National Museum

Xuanzang, a Chinese Buddhist monk and scholar, rendered an unabridged, completed translation of the Wisdom Sutra consisted of 600 fascicles.

Mahāratnakūṭa Sūtra (the Sutra of the Heap of Jewels), National Palace Museum, Taipei

Regarding the other three sutras, Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Garland Sutra) was lost; the other two, Mahāratnakūṭa Sūtra (the Sutra of the Heap of Jewels) and Nirvana Sutra, are now in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. In other words, the present sutra offered is the only surviving example of the Golden Age's legacy in private hands.

Two Sets of Leporello Albums of Illuminated Wisdom Sutra
Commissioned by Imperial Order and Supervised by Huijin, Ming Dynasty, Xuande Period

Auction house: Sotheby's Hong Kong
Size: 40.5cm (each album)
Estimate upon request (The Value has learnt the estimate is HK$90,000,000)