Tanjore Sacred Iconic Paintings

Tanjore paintings take their name from their place of origin in Tamil Nadu. These paintings, generally of Hindu deities with ornamentation in gold, were traditionally used in worship for over 400 years. The most typical of these paintings make use of the gilded and/ or gemset technique(s)which and are highly stylised and conventional. The main deity, represented in a symbolic stance, is centrally placed though some narrative and illustrative subjects are also painted.

Colours used are generally strong and vivid and comprise of deep green, blues, and reds in the background while figures are mainly depicted in white, yellow, green and blue. The colours are applied in a flat brush stroke with variations, the final effect being derived from the use of gold and the setting of the gems which gives the paintings an ornamental and rich look.

Besides Thanjavur, this style was also practised in Mysore and Andhra Pradesh as this style of painting and decorating images with jewels and precious stones encouraged jewellers and goldsmiths. These paintings with their gilded and jewelled effects were used in worship or hung in puja (worship) rooms and gave a glowing presence to the deity.

Originality was not emphasised upon as the painters of these icons were guided primarily by their need to fulfil the needs of the community or patron and thus worked within inherited conventions. An offshoot of the Thanjavur painting was the Tirupati school of painting where the painting was enclosed in a highly embellished and painted wooden enclosure, meant to stand vertically. folding doors had relief figures of Vishnu with smaller renderings of Rama and Krishna, thus creating a portable shrine, which could be transported from one place to another.

The base of each Thanjavur painting was constructed layer upon layer. These paintings are generally made on wooden panels from the jackfruit tree. A sheet of cardboard is then pasted on to the wooden panels with glue made of tamarind paste over which one or more layers of unbleached cloth are pasted down carefully to avoid ensuring any wrinkles. Once this base is prepared the artist is ready to start painting. The area which is to carry gems is coated with a sticky paste made of unboiled finely ground limestone and mixed with glue which is also used to raise the area around the embedded gems and hold them firmly. The finer gold work entails the application of pure gold into very fine sheets pasted on with gum and then rubbed with a smooth stone. The other variety is the embossed style where when the surface of the painting is raised in certain areas and gold-coloured paper is applied on it. This gilding can include the pasting of gems or coloured cut glass. The paper used is handmade rice paper coated with silver leaf. This paper is exposed to saffron smoke, which gives it a golden hue. This gilt paper is less expensive, and is used commonly.

The religious deities portrayed in Thanjavur paintings are the incarnations of Vishnu, Rama and Krishna. The Nataraja is also common. The composition is always figurative with the background being very limited while the figures are always robust and the dress courtly. The jewellery is elaborate and detailed carefully. British influence led to the introduction of portraiture to the repertoire of the artist and paintings of royalty and saints were also made.

This style of painting had died down owing to the time-consuming nature of the crafting and the prohibitive cost. It has, however, become popular again. Thanjavur paintings now hang in offices and homes, although their original religious purpose has given way to an ornamental one. again. Thanjavur paintings now hang in offices and homes, although their original religious purpose has been replaced by an ornamental one.