A chance to think through how the visual impact of text, image, and text with image.

Sutra Fragment, Calligraphy in Block Script

Accession Number

Sutra Fragment, Calligraphy in Block Script


Artist Nationality
Japanese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
12th century - 13th century

Medium & Support
gold and silver ink on indigo-dyed paper

12 5/16 in. x 6 1/8 in. ( 31.2 cm x 15.5 cm )

Credit Line
Gift of Ellen and Richard Laing

Label copy

Sutra fragment, calligraphy in block script
Late Heian period (794–1185) to early Kamakura period (1185–1333) 12th–13th century
Gold and silver ink on indigo-dyed paper
Gift of Ellen and Richard Laing, 2006/2.26

Originally Buddhist teachings were transmitted orally; later they were written down. These texts are known as sutras. The spread of Buddhism from India throughout Asia meant Buddhist texts were translated and recorded in various languages and in a range of formats and materials, and scripts. Sutra copying has also been a popular and powerful form of worship and merit-making across Buddhist traditions. 

Some of the oldest known Buddhist manuscripts, which date to the first century, are from Gandhara (present day western Pakistan) and are written on birch bark. The sutra fragments from India on display here are incised on palm fronds, while a Korean example illustrates the use of indigo-dyed paper. While some of the sutra fragments have text in brushed calligraphy, others are printed with woodblocks. These variations were shaped by the producers’ cultures, the availability of materials and technologies, and the socio-economic level of the patron and/or copyist.

The sutras often promote the recitation, memorization, copying, and spread of Buddhist texts. One of the most popular, The Lotus Sutra, esteems someone who:

writes down or copies out even a single gāthā [verse] of the Lotus Sutra or who shall look with veneration on a scroll of this scripture as if it were the Buddha himself.

(translation by Leon Hurvitz)

Subject matter
The production of luxurious sutras like this speak to the understanding of religious texts as Buddhist relics, as these works would not be actively read, but rather, donated to a temple or shrine and treated as a sacred object in their own right. Sutras like this one were often ritually buried at sacred sites.

Physical Description
An excerpt from the Lotus Sutra (Japanese: Myōhō Renge Kyō), this sutra uses gold pigment on indigo dyed paper.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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Japanese Buddhism
calligraphy (visual works)

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