Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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二月堂焼経
Nigatsudō Burned Sutra

Artist:
Unidentified Artist
Period:
Nara period (710–794)
Date:
ca. 744
Culture:
Japan
Medium:
Hanging scroll; silver ink on indigo-dyed paper
Dimensions:
9 3/4 x 21 1/8 in. (24.8 x 53.7 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Purchase, Mrs. Jackson Burke Gift, 1978
Accession Number:
1981.75
Not on view
This fragment of the Flower Garland Sutra (Kegonkyō) comes from a set of sixty handscrolls donated to the temple Tōdaiji in Nara in 744. Damaged by a fire at the temple’s Nigatsudō Hall, the surviving sections are known today as Nigatsudō Burned Sutras (Nigatsudō yakegyō). The scripture’s singed edges, capturing the Buddhist idea that everything is impermanent, has made these remnants especially prized.

Such fragments also represent some of the earliest surviving examples of the practice of transcribing Buddhist texts using precious materials. The copying of religious writings was thought to confer spiritual merit on all those involved in the project, including the donors, scribes, and craftsmen who prepared the materials, and so was done in great numbers during this period.

The characters are written in a special form of “regular script” (kaisho) that, while written quickly, is balanced and even, with each stroke clearly visible to maximize legibility. The thickened downward diagonal strokes and exaggerated hooks at the ends of other strokes lend a sense of ornamentation and elegance.
Inscription: Extra box top with inscription "Tōdaiji Nigatsudō yakegyō, 1 scroll, Nara period".
[ James Freeman , Bangkok, TH, until 1981; sold to MMA]
New York. Japan Society Gallery. "Japanese Calligraphy from Western Collections," October 4, 1984–January 6, 1985.

Kansas City. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. "Japanese Calligraphy from Western Collections," February 15, 1985–March 31, 1985.

Seattle Art Museum. "Japanese Calligraphy from Western Collections," May 9, 1985–July 14, 1985.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Arts of Japan," 1995.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Arts of Japan," 1998.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Blossoms of Many Colors: A Selection from the Permanent Collection of Japanese Art," March 21, 2000–August 9, 2000.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Enlightening Pursuits," February 28, 2001–August 5, 2001.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Great Waves: Chinese Themes in the Arts of Korea and Japan II," March 22, 2003–September 21, 2003.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Birds, Flowers, and Buddhist Paradise Imagery in Japanese Art," February 14, 2004–June 13, 2004.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," July 2, 2005–November 29, 2005.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Poetry and Travel in Japanese Art," December 18, 2008–May 31, 2009.

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