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The Path of Buddhahood and Art - Collecting Antique Buddha Statues Guide

By OGP Reporters / Members Contribute File Photos

Oh Good Party

You have to study Buddhism and its history when you want to start a collection. But it doesn't necessarily mean you have to believe in Buddhism to be a good collector. We don't think the rising social interest in Buddha statues has anything to do with belief. Almost collectors consider the investment value first when they decide to enter this field. It's an area with great rising potential and the price has soared in recent ten years.

Buddhism is the world's fourth-largest religion with over 520 million followers, known as Buddhists. Buddhism encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on original teachings attributed to the Buddha and resulting interpreted philosophies. Buddhist art is the artistic practices that are influenced by Buddhism. Buddhist art refers to the rich and diverse representations of religious images, sculpture, dance, visual mythology, and symbols deriving from the various Buddhist communities found around the world. Buddhist art exhibits distinctive forms and characteristics reflecting the diverse cultures and countries in which it has spread.


Buddhism originated on the Indian subcontinent following the historical life of Siddhartha Gautama, 6th to 5th century BCE, and thereafter evolved by contact with other cultures as it spread throughout Asia and the world. Buddhism arrived in China around the 1st century CE, and introduced new types of art in China, particularly in the area of statuary. Receiving this distant religion, strong Chinese traits were incorporated into Buddhist art. In the 5th to 6th centuries, the Northern Dynasties, developed rather symbolic and abstract modes of representation, with schematic lines. Their style is also said to be solemn and majestic. The lack of corporeality of this art, and its distance from the original Buddhist objective of expressing the pure ideal of enlightenment in an accessible and realistic manner, progressively led to a change towards more naturalism and realism, leading to the expression of Tang Buddhist art. Following a transition under the Sui Dynasty, Buddhist sculpture of the Tang evolved towards a markedly life-like expression. Because of the dynasty’s openness to foreign influences, and renewed exchanges with Indian culture due to the numerous travels of Chinese Buddhist monks to India, Tang dynasty Buddhist sculpture assumed a rather classical form, inspired by the Indian art of the Gupta period. During that time, the Tang capital of Chang'an became an important center for Buddhism. From there, Buddhism spread to Korea and Japan. Buddhism continued to prosper for some centuries, especially under the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when Chan monasteries were great centres of culture and learning. The popularization of Buddhism in China has made the country home to one of the richest collections of Buddhist arts in the world. Buddhist artwork as a collection object mainly includes stone statues, golden bronze statues, Buddhist symbol musical apparatus, Thangka, and Dzi Beads.


Buddha statues are unique artifacts which represent the awakened one. They are taken as great symbols of peace, compassion, fortune, happiness and motivation. The follower of Buddhism, known as Buddhists, consider Buddha statue as the ultimate symbol of internal satisfaction which enlightens our mind and soul. According to the Buddhist mythology, Buddha statues are the symbol for various subjects. More and more collectors and religion enthusiast are collecting Buddha statues, especially the ones which are antique i.e. antique Buddha statues. The antique Buddha statues carry their own history as they are sculpted in different age of time. These statues have held an important meaning for Buddhists and have gone through the test of time.


That's the first reason why collectors collect the antique Buddhist statues: these antique Buddhas are unlike their modern counterparts which are crafted for commercial purpose. They were specially carved and sculpted so as to represent various Buddhist principles like emphasizes qualities such as compassion, seeking personal development, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. For Buddhists, Buddha sculptures serve as visual imagery intended to narrate the various aspects of the Buddha’s life and lessons —— balance, generosity, peace, and wisdom. It often took years to sculpt and make an antique Buddha statue. They were made for worship and Buddhists put their hearts and souls into making the statues. That's why Buddha statues are so beautiful. Without the same devout belief in Buddhism, people nowadays just can't create such beautiful statues any longer. Neither can they afford the time and energy to make a fake statue. And the second reason: compared with antique furniture, paintings and ceramics, Buddha statues are smaller in size and easier to keep without too much care. The last reason is that Buddha statues were worshipped by everyone and weren't buried with the dead. So antique Buddha statues, such as those from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, aren't categorized as excavated antiques. It largely diminishes the risk for private collectors as Chinese government hasn't legalized individuals to collect buried artefacts.


Today, the antique Buddha statues are one of the most sought after antique artifacts of the world given that they serve various purposes. One of the most notable purposes is designed to remind Buddha's followers of eternal truths. Capturing centuries of some of the finest artisan-made, handcrafted works from many regions of Asia, Buddhist sculpture appeals to collectors who have an admiration of Asian culture, those who are interested in its historical meaning, and those who simply love the aesthetic. Buddha statues are considered the gem of the collections for many antique collectors. These antique Buddhas can also be considered as a great gift for the loved ones who follow Buddhism.


You have to study Buddhism and its history when you want to start a collection. But it doesn't necessarily mean you have to believe in Buddhism to be a good collector. We don't think the rising social interest in Buddha statues has anything to do with belief. Almost collectors consider the investment value first when they decide to enter this field. It's an area with great rising potential and the price has soared in recent ten years. After that, a refined statue cost less than one million yuan. But now if you want to get into this market, you have to set aside a lot of money, at least 100 million yuan. A lot of mainland entrepreneurs started following and collecting Buddhist art from 2004, and pushed up the prices. There is a high financial threshold to collecting Buddhist statues. You also have to look for some really good experts to appraise statues for you. Anyway, it's important to learn appraisal skills yourself.


1. Type of Statue

Buddhism includes a wide array of divine beings: for example Tara, Mahakala, Yaksha, Devas, Bodhisattva and Siddhārtha Gautama. These deities are a shape of Buddha or represent Asian spirits and local gods which have become part of the Buddhist realm and exist next to Buddha. The type of statue, style, pose and iconography can contribute to its value. You can tell the meaning of a Buddha statue by looking at his asana and mudra. Each traditional pose refers to an important event in the life or past lives of the Historical Buddha.


2. Period and Country

Early gilt bronze statues from China and Tibet are currently sought after, which makes Buddhist statues from these countries more valuable. A fragment of a Buddha statue with a very nice facial expression can be more valuable than an intact, very early bronze statue from the 17th century that does not have a nice expression. As with any other area of collecting art, condition is an important aspect in the value of a work. Given the age of many Buddhist sculptures, however, many examples will have undergone some form of restoration.


3. Size, Material and Quality of workmanship

The size and material can sometimes have an influence on the value. The better the good-quality and rare material statues, the more likely it will keep its value. At auction Buddhas in good condition and of monumental sizes attract the highest bids. Artisans have used stone, stucco, jade, ivory, wood, lacquer, and metals such as bronze, gold, and silver to recreate them. These usually have peaceful expressions, mimicking Buddha's traditional attributes such as his serene compassion for humanity. Such highly-prized examples are carefully gilt and can be inlaid with gem beads. You need look for good-quality cast statues, by paying particular attention to the facial features and the underside of the statue. Delicate and symmetrical characteristics will be more appealing to bidders.


4. Special and Rare

From some famous temples and royal family features contribute to the value of Buddhist statue. In some cases a statue has a period mark, a date or a name of the commissioner. The artists who created Buddhist sculptures are anonymous. On certain occasions, however, sculptures are marked with inscriptions that indicate they were made during the reign of a certain emperor or in the lifetime of a Tibetan lama. These works can make your statue more interesting and more valuable because it adds to the story of your statue. After all, a work with old, well-documented provenance will always be worth considerably more than a similar work with no history. The most collectors buy Buddhist statues for their authentic, well-made and of artistic value.


At the end of the day, what makes for great value in a Buddhist sculpture is based on a number of things, the main reason is the stylistic modelling of the figure, the rarity of the subject, and the skill of the artist. People are buying Buddhist sculptures because they are rare and well made.


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