MBS Smallest Jade Book
A RARE MINIATURE IMPERIAL PRAJNAPARAMITA SUTRA JADE BOOK QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD
Sold For HK$7271500
Buyers Premium included
A RARE MINIATURE IMPERIAL PRAJNAPARAMITA SUTRA JADE BOOK
QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD
comprising four square white jade plaques of translucent pale celadon tone, the nanmu covers carved with scrolling lotus blooms, the front cover inscribed with the title Banruo poluomido xinjing, the jade plaques delicately and precisely incised and gilt with text in kaishu from the Prajnaparamita Sutra (Heart Sutra), between the first page incised with Guanyin and the last page with a Celestial Guardian, each folio bound opposite its derived rubbing, all carefully mounted and framed on yellow brocade
Sotheby's Hong Kong, 14th November 1990, lot 405.
Jade books as small as this one, are extremely rare, although a slightly larger one (8 by 6.6 cm) also inscribed with the Xinjing was recently sold in these rooms, 9th October 2007, lot 1332. The present lot is considered to be the smallest known jade book of this type.
Jade books containing the emperor's handwriting are naturally of the highest quality and value and therefore ranks amongst the highest quality jade books. It is also of extremely fine workmanship. Since each plaque is about 1-2 mm thick, the craftsmen working with this very thin and light material had to be extremely careful not to apply too much pressure or break the plaque.
Despite the long history of jade books throughout Chinese history, not many have survived. There was a revival in jade book making during the Qianlong reign. This was mainly due to Qianlong's initiative and secondly to the increase in the supply of the raw material - jade. The majority of jade books made during Qianlong's reign contained the emperor's poems, however there are examples of books containing Buddhist scriptures as well. Buddhist scripture jade books usually combine text and drawings. The present jade book, is carved with the text from the Xinjing or 'Heart Sutra' in Qianlong's own handwriting.
The 'Banruo Poluomido Xinjing' is an abridged version of the Prajnaparamita Sutra and is regarded as one of the shortest and most popular versions among the Buddhist scriptures. It contains the essence of the complete six-hundred scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism in only just over 260 characters and is a text read by Buddhist followers in the morning and in the evenings. There are several translations of the 'Banruo Poluomido Xinjing', with the most popular one by Jiu Mou Lou Shi of the Qin dynasty and the other by the monk Xuan Zhang of the Tang dynasty. Xuan Zhang's translation is especially easy to understand and was favoured by the Qing emperors.
The Prajnaparamita Sutra was possibly one of the most copied sutras of the time. The Kangxi emperor copied this sutra to express his blessing for his grandmother. When he reached the age of fifty, in the 42nd year of his reign (equivalent to 1703 A.D.), The Emperor Kanxi started copying the sutra to calm himself from the daily anxieties of governing. For the next twenty years, he copied a section of the sutra on regular basis, on the first and fifteenth day of every month, and on special Buddhist festivals. According to archival records, in the 9th year of Qianlong's reign, there were over 420 volumes of the sutra kept in the palace written by the Emperor Kangxi.
The Qianlong Emperor, who was enthroned at the age of 25, followed his grandfather in copying the sutra on regular basis. He also copied a section of the sutra without fail on the first day of the New Year, on the eight day of the fourth month and on special Buddhist festivals each year. From the 40th year of his reign he started copying the sutra even more frequently, and the total number of copies by him soon exceeded that of his grandfather.
With the pacification of the Hui people in Xinjiang during his reign, the jade workshops were able to secure good quality jade from Hetian and thereby satisfy the emperor's wish for jade artifacts. Under his rule, the number of jade books carved with his poems and writings significantly increased. Jade books were either made by artisans working in the Palace Workshop belonging to the Neiwufu, in the jade workshops of Suzhou under imperial orders, or in the jade workshops belonging to the Huai and Changlu Salt Administrations. Jade books were also offered as tribute items to the emperor.