Crash Course: How To Identify The Authenticity Of Ancient Chinese Buddhist Statues By Inscriptions
For the collectors, the Buddha statues they collect are mainly ancient Buddhist statues. If it is a replicas, it has no value for collection. Actually, the decorations and inscriptions on the Buddhist statues have important reference value for identifying authenticity.
The decorative patterns on Buddhist statues often include various plant patterns, bird and beast patterns and geometric patterns, etc., which are expressed through different techniques such as engraving, inlaying and casting. Because these patterns have distinctive characteristics of the eras and regions, they have important reference value for identifying the era, style and authenticity of Buddhist statues.
Generally speaking, the ornamentation on the real Buddhist statue is natural and smooth, which is completely consistent with the overall style of the Buddhist statue, while the ornamentation of the replicas of a Buddhist statue is mostly unnatural. The difference between the two is very obvious.
Engraving inscriptions on Buddhist statues are very common in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist statues. From a historical perspective, the content of inscriptions includes the era of creation, the name of the investor or craftsman of the statue, and the purpose of the statue. The characters include Chinese, Tibetan, etc., and the fonts include regular script (楷書), clerical script (隸書), and seal script (篆書). They have distinctive characteristics based on the difference between the eras and regions. As long as we know the content, form, font style, and position of the inscriptions of Buddhist statues in various eras and regions, it is not difficult to identify the authenticity of Buddhist statues.
For example, the Buddhist statues produced by the government during the Yongxuan period of the Ming Dynasty (1403-1435) are generally engraved with the inscription "大明永樂年施" or "大明宣德年施". The word "施" can mean "giving" or "donating". The whole sentences mean "given in the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty" and "given in the Xuande period of the Ming Dynasty". That implies that those Buddhist statues are given by the government. However, the forgers do not know this rule and they often make mistakes: either the position of the inscription is wrong and it is engraved on the back of the Buddhist statue, or the content is wrong and it is engraved with the inscription "大明永樂年制" or "大明宣德年制". The word "制" means "made". The whole sentences mean "made in the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty" and "made in the Xuande period of the Ming Dynasty".
Among these contents, the font style is particularly important, because the contents can be imitated, while the font style in that era is difficult to be imitated. Therefore, when we identify the authenticity of Buddhist statues, we must also check the inscription and its font style.
By Jason Ma, a Buddhist art expert in Hong Kong