Very Good condition antique Phra Malai manuscript
Folding book manuscript with 16-paired illustrations; ink and color on khoi paper; W. 5 ½” x L. 25 ¾” H., 3 ½” (closed);
Thai-language text in Khom script.
It came to me as an early 19th century manuscript, having most probably moved to a Western collection in the last decade of the 1800s. Carefully preserved and rarely ever opened this piece has escaped the ravages of time.
Similar example was displayed at the Asia Society in the “Pilgrimage & Buddhist Art” exhibition in spring of 2010, loaned from the Spencer Collection of the NY Public Library.
Khoi is a type of paper made from the fiber of the streblus asper shrub. This paper was used for centuries to document Thai history. Khoi is extremely durable, doesn't tear or ignite easily, doesn't yellow and is resistant to ants, weevils, termites and other paper-nibbling bugs.
There is water-staining on left side; affects script but not illustrations.
The story of the Buddhist saint, Phra Malai, who travels to heaven and hell and shares the insights he learned from Maitreya with fellow monks and the laity, was thought to have been imported from Sri Lanka around the 13th century - about the same time that Sinhalese texts were consulted in creation of the Sukhothai style.
It became one of the most popular subjects of 19th-century illuminated Thai manuscripts, which were frequently donated to monasteries as acts of merit.
For more information and related examples see Ginsburg, Thai Manuscript Painting, London, 1989. Compare also to a similar manuscript held in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.76.93.2) and a completely digitized version in the British Library (OR 14838). Sept. 18, 2013, Bonham’s auction, Lot 232.