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TWO ILLUSTRATED ‘PHRA MALAI’ MANUSCRIPT LEAVES, 19TH CENTURY
LOT 1485 - AK0124

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Lot details

Thailand, ca. 1820-1840. Ink, gilt, and watercolors on paper. Each of rectangular form, the central text in Khom Thai script within an orange and red border and flanked by figural scenes depicting Phra Malai, with one leaf showing the Buddhist saint descending to hell and the other showing him in heaven.

Provenance: Santi’s Art & Antiques, Bangkok, Thailand, 1980s. An English private collection, acquired from the above (invoice lost) and thence by descent in the same family. Each with an old label, ‘Santi’s Art & Antiques, 178 Sukhumvit Road, Between SOI 8-10 Bangkok 11, Thailand’, to the back. Santi’s Antiques was established in 1958 by Santi Sivakua in Bangkok, Thailand, who became one of Thailand’s most reputable dealers and an acclaimed expert in Chinese porcelain and Southeast Asian artifacts, serving as a consultant for several reference publications. In 1990, Santi’s son Suk took over the business.
Condition: Overall good condition, commensurate with age, the manuscripts with few creases, foxing, and minor losses to pigments. The frame with few scratches and nicks, little staining to the silk.

Dimensions: Image size 67.3 x 26.5cm (each), Size incl. frame 85.3 x 44.4 cm (each)

Each leaf framed behind glass, with an old gilt-wood frame and fine silk mounting. (2)

The story of the Buddhist saint Phra Malai is thought to have been imported from Sri Lanka around the 13th century, about the same time that Singhalese texts were consulted in the 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.

Phra Malai, according to the various versions of the story, was a Buddhist monk who accumulated so much merit that he acquired great supernatural abilities. Using his powers, he traveled to the various Buddhist hells, where he meets the suffering denizens and is implored to have their living relatives make merit on their behalf. He later traveled to the heavenly realms of the devas, Trayastriṃsa and Tushita, where he met Indra and the future Buddha Maitreya, who instructed him further in merit-making.

Literature comparison:
For more information and related examples see Ginsburg, Thai manuscript Painting, London, 1989. Compare a related manuscript in the collection of the Penn Museum, accession number 77-5-5.

Auction result comparison:
Type: Related
Auction: Bonhams San Francisco, 27 June 2017, lot 8025
Price: USD 8,750 or approx. EUR 10,500 converted and adjusted for inflation at the time of writing
Description: An illustrated manuscript, Thailand, 19th century
Expert remark: Note that the lot comprises an accordion-style manuscript

 

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