Saturday, August 30, 2008

Palm Leaf Books at the Met

Holland Cotter reviewed an exhibition entitled “Early Buddhist Manuscript Painting: The Palm-Leaf Tradition” in the South Asian galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the August 28 New York Times. He writes of the history of the palm leaf book and the importance of its portability in its survival.

Such practical features — size, resilience, portability — help explain why a similar form of palm-leaf art, the illustrated book, was popular in India between the 10th and 13th centuries. And they suggest why such books and their illustrations have survived into the present, while painting in more perishable media has not.

He discusses the subject matter, Buddhist sutras, and the many uses of the book.

So palm-leaf manuscripts, like most art, had multiple uses. They circulated spiritual information. They functioned as protective charms. They served as religious offerings, gifts from which karmic returns were expected. And they became objects of worship....

And a book could have a final use. It could be a personal possession; something to keep at home, carry around, examine up close whenever you pleased. That’s basically the experience offered by the scattering of palm-leaf pages at the Met, with their elegantly written texts and magnetic little pictures.

The exhibition continues until March 22, 2009.

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