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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Looking at Buddha

Daphne Lange Rosenzweig,

Buddha = an awakened one (one who has achieved enlightenment)

Appraisers frequently encounter Buddhist art works in every form, from goldfish tank ornaments and modern cast concrete potbellied garden statues, to museum-quality textiles, paintings, and sculptures. The current Buddhist art market is very active, rising rapidly for extraordinary works, and with a constant presence for lesser works on eBay. Identifying when a work is Buddhist, judging its quality, and assigning a value estimate can be difficult. This brief article is designed to help appraisers understand these challenges.

Describing a Buddha

Buddhism is an extremely complex religion, born over 2,500 years ago in what is now southern Nepal, nourished in north India, then split into various schools and developing into today's active international Buddhist community.

Just as in the early centuries of Christian art, initially, the Historical Buddha (Sakyamuni, born as Prince Siddhartha) was not depicted figurally, but rather with scenes or attributes associated with the primary image ("aniconic" art). As centuries following the venerated figure's lifetime and people's spiritual and philosophic needs from religious art altered, the Buddha himself began to be portrayed ("iconic art"). The anonymous sculptors and painters needed to somehow indicate that this was not an ordinary person being represented but a figure of spiritually elevated status, a holy image.

For this reason, 32 major and 80 minor signs of a Buddha ("lakshanas") are assigned to this image, none of which would be possessed by a normal human being. For presentation purposes, the list is usually winnowed down to a few which are instantly recognizable as signs indicating that this image represents a Buddha.

A Tibetan Carved Blackstone Stele of
Shakyamuni Buddha, 10th century. Source

Generic indications of the Buddha body include:
  • Gold body
  • Elongated ear lobes (from his former life as a prince, bedecked with heavy earrings, not a lakshana, but a universal attribute)
  • A compound body with elephant trunk style arms, antelope-shaped thighs, lion chest, and elongated fingers
  • 3 circles in the neck (3 stages of enlightenment)
  • A protuberance on the skull ("ushnisha") indicating advanced spiritual knowledge
  • A tuft of hair or raised circle on the forehead ("urna")
In addition to these common features, there may be other visual signs associated with a Buddha:
  • Meaningful hand gestures ("mudras")
  • Meaningful leg positions ("asanas")
  • Attributes (hand-held objects or other objects accompanying specific figures)
  • Accompanying personnel (including high-ranking Buddhist figures, guardians, monks, animals, donors, etc.)
  • Mini-narrative scenes from the life or previous lives ("jatakas") of the Buddha
  • Body ambiance:(throne or snake ["naga"] seat; lotus base; halos encircling the head; and mandorla encircling the whole body
  • Frontal position (in a group composition, the Buddha usually faces forward with half-closed eyes, is dressed differently, and is larger and placed higher than other figures than who turn towards him)
All these indicators can aid the appraiser/viewer in identifying an image as a Buddha – though to compound the problem, there are many different Buddhas represented in Buddhist art, with their own particular attributes (the Buddha of Medicine with a medicine bowl, for example). In Mahayana School Buddhism (dominant in northern and east Asian School, but also present in some southeast Asian countries), there is a being called a Bodhisattva, one who is entitled to become a Buddha but remains behind on the journey to help others. Bodhisattvas can assume many of the lakshanas mentioned above, but also wear the heavy jewelry of a prince.

When in doubt, an appraiser might wish to just assign the title "Buddhist image," which is true, if far from informative! This method is particularly advisable in the arena of Himalayan art, with its multiplicity of male and female deities, including several important Hindu gods brought into Buddhist art. Given the current soaring market for Buddhist art generally, caution and consultation are advised.

Note that it is usually stylistically possible to distinguish a genuine Tibetan from a Thai from a Cambodian or Japanese or contemporary Western Buddha image, even when they are all portraying the same spiritual figure. There are regional preferences for a certain appearance, as well as chronological alterations in appearances even within one region.

Value Estimate Considerations

Because of the current art market popularity of Buddhist art with collectors from Hong Kong to New York to London, there have been many major auctions devoted to this subject. Some of the values achieved are stunning and unexpected, way beyond what an appraiser, having conducted a professional appraisal with well-chosen comparables, might assign as a value estimate. Listed in no particular order, here are some value estimate considerations for Buddhist art following the initial description:
  1. Authenticity. Reproductions are rampant, in theory because of respect for renowned older models, or, buyer's preference for a traditional style without any concern for age, or in an attempt to deceive (think "Remington bronzes"). Choice artist signatures, temple seals, Chinese reign names or workshop logos may be added onto a painting, sculpture or textile reproduction. Accompanying boxes may not reflect the original date of the work of art, etc. Really, live in doubt and hope for the best, and research and consult where necessary.
  2. Rarity. Subject, period, technique, inscription, etc. Here, expert advice might be needed. Note that artist names are very unusual on earlier work, but workshop names may be documented or ascribed on the reverse of some works. Some Zen paintings from the 14th century on do bear signatures, although authenticity is an issue. Many modern Tibetan thangka paintings may bear an artist's name (contra to tradition because that places ego over egolessness, the ideal) due to some current Western collectors' demand to know an artist name, and certain of these artists have considerable value.
  3. Materials. Precious, common, legal; unobtainable today; bronze or brass; silk or wool; all from original period, or later additions; permanent or built in obsolescence; etc.
  4. Dimensions. With many museums today, in accepting a work of art as a non-cash charitable contribution, the curators and boards want ready-to-go "display-quality" art, not too small to make an immediate impact. This often means that a larger work might be more desirable than it might be otherwise, except of course if a smaller work is truly "choice"; and see 5.
  5. Condition. Loss of wood or metals; corrosion, or permanent fading; torn textiles; water or fire, insect (active or dead) or incense damage; loss of original mounting, base, setting; need for conservation, cost of repair, and possibility of repair, etc. - the usual value deterrents. Museums may be reluctant to accept even important works if they are in poor and beyond repair condition and in need of conservation in order to be displayed; there may be no funding or expertise available to perform this task.
  6. Provenance. The more respected the former owner/dealer/auction, the more confident an appraiser might feel; that may be an error, however. Modern scholarship may have changed interpretations from previous ones, and today's opinions about a work may not reflect the opinions or taste of a previous era (not to mention, opinions of the current owner!). Any "outside" (not self-published) publication or museum exhibition of the work, with documentation certainly has to be taken into account. There may be legal ramifications to this aspect of provenance. It also is desirable to learn the date of entry into the US or Canada.
  7. Date. This can be tricky, because prime earlier examples are relentlessly copied as reproductions (as in 1.), but also because workshops traditionally used illustrated wood block print depicting the correct way to depict Buddhist figures, in order to create a specific, identifiable image.
  8. Country of origin. Obviously having an accurate geographic identification is important, which brings up an important matter, the work's having a clear provenance (6.) and not subject to an MOU, or Memorandum of Understanding (which can involve repatriation), between country of origin and current country location. Some countries forbid the export of Buddhist figures – or may want them back when they have come west and become public knowledge.
  9. Subject desirability. This includes clarity of design, appealing coloration, interesting or appalling elements, richness of the iconography. Apart from the generalist Buddha collector, there is an active sub-group of collectors who specialize in works with erotic imagery though nudity per se is seldom portrayed outside of the greater India area.
  10. Association with a revered figure or temple. The handprint of a famous teacher or abbot on the reverse of a thangka, for example: Reliable provenance and expert advice may be needed. This can be a major value consideration. If you cannot remove a painting from its current setting, to review the reverse or view the base of a sculpture, this should be stated as a limiting condition.
  11. Quality overall. Museum quality, decorative, other descriptors, with reasoning. These are subjective descriptors, and recommended to be used carefully and only under a specific request for such analysis by client: Well or poorly cast; heavy brass misidentified previously as bronze; inferior, damaged, and faded painting; wood sculptures and textiles in ruinous condition; reproductions of famous works; marks that are just not correct, and why, these are objective descriptors and are rightfully noted.
Of course, so many of these considerations which can affect the value of a Buddhist work of art are familiar ones from other art traditions, but a few are specific to Buddhist art.


Appraising Buddhist art can be difficult. Buddhism alone, with its ancient history, philosophic and religious foundations, and regional and chronological variations, is such a complex subject, with a huge bibliography, some truly awful movies and certainly numerous "Hum"-along lengthy DVD performances. For the use of appraisers of Buddhist art, I have added a few recommended references to Buddhist visual arts and marketplace sites below. There are many more sites, both scholarly and commercial.

Helpful references

  • Tibet House US - Associated with the Dalai Lama; many exhibitions of modern Tibetan and Mongolian art
  • Onmark Productions - Go to the side-bar on Buddhist art. So much information! Japanese-oriented but useful overall
  • Asian Art Museum of San Francisco - Essays and videos; excellent resource, much developed in connection with Khan Academy
  • Asia Society Museum, New York - Top quality examples by region
  • Buddha Museum - Sale source with values
  • BuddhaNet - Very useful for iconography, history, philosophy, etc.
  • Leidy, Denise, The Art of Buddhism: An Introduction to Its History and Meaning (Shambala 2008, paperback) - General introduction by region and period
  • Rubin Museum of Art - Himalayan art; excellent exhibition materials, site can be difficult to navigate
  • The Four Noble Truths: A Study Guide - Guide to major concepts, etc
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History - Many thematic essays on Buddhist art by countries, periods, general discussion
  • The Buddha Gallery - Commercial site
  • Baronet 4 Tibet - Commercial gallery by devotees to and purveyors of Tibetan art, primarily thangka
  • Thangka Paintings
- Daphne Lange Rosenzweig, PhD, ISA CAPP 

Don't miss ISA's upcoming webinar, "Goddess of Mercy: Buddhism and its Symbolism in Asian Art" on April 24.

Ask an Instructor: Requal Exams and USPAP Required Disclosures

ISA members are invited to send in their questions on all things appraising and education to ISA's instructors. One of ISA's instructors will share answers on the ISA Now Blog. Please send questions to

Question: Is there an exam for Requal?

Answer: No, there is currently not an exam component with the Requalification course. ISA's policy is that all members must "requalify" every five years. In order to fulfill the Requalification requirement, you must successfully complete the course (either onsite or live online), submit a federal function appraisal report for peer review during the course, and submit the completed Requalification packet within 45 days of completing the course. More information on the ISA Requalification Process can be found here. If you should have any specific questions about your Requalification with ISA, please contact ISA headquarters at for more details. Need to requalify? Register for the next Requalification course here.

Editor's note: The following question comes from the March 29, 2018 USPAP Q&A and has been adapted to pertain to Personal Property appraisals.

Question: I am using an appraisal form that has an appraiser's certification which cannot be altered. The certification does not include USPAP's required disclosure on whether I performed any services on the property in the three years prior to the assignment. May I simply add such a statement elsewhere in the report, outside of the certification?

Answer: No. Simply adding information in the body of a report is not the same as a signed certification. Any supplemental certification should be clearly identified, and it must be signed as required by Standards Rule 8-3.

USPAP does not require the report to be signed; it requires a signed certification. USPAP acknowledges that signatures may appear elsewhere in the report, and if so, per the Comment to Standards Rule 8-3, any party signing elsewhere must also sign the certification. NOTE: ISA requires that the report be signed. Thus, if your certification statement is the last item in your cover document, then you can sign your report and the certification statement with one signature. If your certification statement is elsewhere in your document, then you need to sign the certification statement page and also the report itself – remembering that anyone who signs the report must also sign the certification.

While USPAP does not require labeling the certification with that specific term, the certification must be similar in content to the language in USPAP's Standards Rule 8-3, which starts with "I hereby certify that..." The Comment to Standards Rule 8-3 states that a "signed certification" is an integral part of the report, but it is a clearly differentiated part of the report. For example, it may be difficult for an appraiser to defend a statement on page 18 of an appraisal report as being a "signed certification" when the only signature is on page 6 below a list of items clearly labeled an Appraiser's Certification.

- Meredith Meuwly, ISA CAPP
Director of Education

Monday, April 9, 2018

Protect Your Business with Higginbotham Insurance

Joy S. Simpson & Carsey Aycock
The following is a sponsored post by ISA Affinity Business Partner (ABP), Higginbotham. Learn more about ABP membership.

Dear ISA members,

It was such a pleasure to attend Assets 2018 in Pasadena this past month! I am very pleased to announce that we have officially launched the insurance program for the International Society of Appraisers. At Assets, I was afforded the opportunity to pilot the program with several members by quoting and even issuing policies right there at our booth. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like to apply, or you can fill out the online application form and submit it via email to

My teammate, Carsey Aycock, and I are available to you for any questions. Our direct contact information is listed below. We have also included answers some of the most common questions that come up when purchasing insurance. I look forward to the opportunity to become your insurance partner!

Insurance Program Summary for ISA Members

  • General Liability and Professional Liability (E&O): $1,000,000/$2,000,000 
  • Bailees: Various limits available, $15,000 with a $500 deductible recommended as a starting point

Frequently Asked Questions

What is included in the insurance program?
The program packages together General Liability, Professional Liability, and Bailees (Inland Marine). You can choose to purchase any one of these coverages a la carte with the exception of Professional Liability, which must be combined with General Liability.

What is Inland Marine?
This is another term for Bailees, which is coverage for objects of art, rarity, or historic merit in your care, custody, or control.

What is Professional Liability?
This is another term for E&O (Errors & Omissions) and is coverage for you should you make an error or omissions within your professional service as an appraiser.

What is General Liability?
This is your basic "slip & fall" insurance and covers you for claims of bodily injury or property damage that you may become legally liable for.

Are jewelry and watches covered in the Bailees policy?
Yes! While it is rare for Bailees to cover these items, we have given back coverage for members in good standing with ISA. Please note, however, that loose precious and semiprecious stones, bullion, gold, silver, platinum, or other precious metals or alloys are not covered.

How far back will the insurance program cover me for E&O/Professional Liability?
The insurance program will not cover you for any claims that occurred before you purchased the policy. If you are moving from a different E&O policy, you should inquire about an extended reporting period from your current agent (known as Tail Coverage). This period would allow you to report claims to that policy for an extended period of time, after the cancellation. Once you are with our insurance program, you will have coverage back to the day you bound a policy with us.

Is art conservation covered in this program?
No, unfortunately, it is not.

Are objects of art, rarity, or historic merit that I own covered by Bailees?
No, not automatically. However, if you need coverage for owned items, please let us know and we will attach a special endorsement to the policy allowing it to cover owned items.

Is coverage available in Canada?
At the time we are not able to offer coverage in Canada. However, Jamie and I are working hard to make this happen as soon as possible.

What are the deductibles on the insurance program?
The Bailees typically has a $500 deductible (higher deductibles result in very low premium savings so it’s not recommended). The General Liability and D&O/Professional Liability have no deductible.

What if I need other types of insurance, like worker’s compensation?
I can absolutely provide quotes for other types of insurance, just give me a call and we can talk through your specific needs.

Joy S. Simpson, MFA, CIC Associate – Business Insurance
P 817-347-7007 | C 817-881-4196 | F 817-347-6981 |

Carsey Aycock, Account Executive
T: 817 349-2288 | F: 817-347-6981 |

Monday, April 2, 2018

Announcing the ISA Dealer Directory

Christine Guernsey, ISA CAPP
If you weren’t at Assets 2018, you missed the announcement for the new ISA Dealer Directory. This new directory connects prominent invited and vetted antique, jewelry, fine, and decorative arts dealers with our qualified ISA appraisers across the United States and Canada. The purpose of the Directory is to provide ISA appraisers and dealers opportunities to facilitate appraisals, acquisitions, and the disposition of fine and decorative art as well as antiques and jewelry. The directory is a private subscription-based service for dealers and gives free access of the postings to all ISA members.

Our new ISA Dealer Directory is the first of its kind to be created by a professional appraisal organization. The directory is a private subscription-based service for dealers with free access to all ISA members. The directory provides a unique benefit for our membership with the hope of improved relationships with private dealers and galleries. Whether we are in search of replacement cost information, have a general question about an item, or are helping a client that is interested in working privately to sell an object, our new ISA Dealer Directory can be of great assistance.

The ISA Dealer Directory consists of two sides. The Dealer side is a private, subscription-based directory service where vetted private dealers and galleries are allowed access, providing posts for items they are hoping to find. As appraisers, many of us are the first to know if our client has an item that he or she wishes to sell privately. And the fees from dealers and galleries subscribing to our directory will help fund future ISA member benefits as well!

The Appraisal side, available only to ISA members logged into the ISA website, allows access to all dealer postings for jewelry, antiques, fine art, and decorative accessories free of charge. There are keyword searches in addition to being able to view all postings. Please pay attention to the suggestions on the View Postings page as these helpful guidelines will improve your ability to have more fruitful interactions with dealers. We hope that this new program will enrich your appraisal practice, providing additional opportunities with new avenues for business networking.

After being beta tested with several dealers and ISA appraisers, our new Dealer Directory is now live and can be found by clicking on the Dealer Directory tab in the upper right hand corner of the ISA homepage. I’m very excited about the potential this directory offers ISA and look forward to hearing your thoughts after you have a chance to visit it.

- Christine Guernsey, ISA CAPP