Tanjore paintings, also called Thanjavur paintings, are named after the painting style that flourished in the District of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. The painting style emerged in the 16th century during the Nayaka rule in the region and got its current form and style during the Maratha rule in the 17th century. During the Maratha rule, the city of Thanjavur emerged as the center of art, learning, music, and architecture.
Tanjore paintings are also called ‘Palagai Padam,’ which translates to painting on a wooden plank. The art form developed from the mural art form, and the iconography of these paintings is derived from Shaivite and Vaishnavite traditions. The three-dimensional, jewel-like look of the painting is obtained using glass beads, mirrors, semi-precious and precious stones, and gold foils. The painting style is known for its extravagant depiction of Hindu deities using rich colors and flashy embellishments, including glittering 24-carat gold foils.
Although the Tanjore painting has undergone numerous changes over the past few centuries, the paintings are still popular amongst art lovers, and it's true Indian style is an inspiration for many artists.
The unique features of Tanjore Paintings
This ancient and antique art form is considered divine in its approach, as most paintings portray Hindu mythological Gods and Goddesses adorned with shiny ornaments and filled with rich, vibrant colors. One of the main characteristics of Unique Tanjore paintings is the plumpness of the faces of idols, giving the painting a pristine look. Although each painting is entrenched in the region's cultural past from where it originated, the skilled artisans use their thoughts and imagination to create unique Tanjore paintings.
Each Tanjore painting is characterized by iconic composition, rich colors, use of precious and semi-precious stones, glass inlay, gesso work, and glittering gold foil. The precious stones bring out the glow to the ornaments and structures in the painting, and gold foil is used for providing a radiance glow that would last forever.
Some features of the Unique Tanjore Paintings are:
- Wooden Plank: As the name ‘Palagai Padam’ suggests, these traditional paintings are crafted on a wooden plank. The paintings are made on a wooden board from teak wood or jackfruit wood. Not many painting styles are made on wooden boards, making the art form unique.
- Rich and vivid colors: Artists mostly prefer using primary and bright colors in Tanjore paintings. They tend to avoid using dull colors in paintings. Usually, the background and the attire of deities are painted in blue, green, yellow, or red colors only.
- Glittering gold foil: The use of glittering gold foil makes these paintings stand out from the rest of the painting styles. Artists use gold foils to bring out the glow in dresses and ornaments and embellish the structures in Unique Tanjore paintings.
- Precious and Semi-precious stones: These stones are engraved or pasted on the wooden plank using limestone. The stones and gems are used for decorating the ornaments, dresses, and structures along with the gold.
- Gesso Work: Another unique feature of Tanjore paintings is the precise gesso work that provides a 3-dimensional look to the painting. These paintings have embossed areas that are elevated from the painting surface. This embossing is known as Gesso work in art language.
- Use of Natural colors: Earlier, the artists used colors extracted from fruits and vegetables. Now, skilled artisans from South India still prefer to use natural and environment-friendly colors to paint Tanjore paintings.
- Intricate Work with Precision: Crafting a Tanjore painting is a highly intricate process, and artisans put a special eye on details and precision. The attention given to the details and quality in every Tanjore painting is worth watching.
The History of Tanjore Paintings
This unique painting style drew its inspiration from the art that flourished during the reign of Vijayanagara Rayas in the 16th century. The Nayaka governors administered South India during this period, and they were great supporters of art and literature. The unique characteristics of Tanjore paintings, such as rich, vibrant colors, and architectural details, have the roots linked to the Mural artform popular during this period. In 1676, when Maratha rulers established their reign in South India, Maratha rulers encouraged art and artists.
The Tanjore art style flourished and developed into its current form during the Maratha rule. The Maratha artists started ornamenting the paintings with cut glasses, precious stones, and gold foil to provide a glowing and three-dimensional look. The palaces and buildings of Maratha rulers were adorned with huge Tanjore paintings of deities and various Maratha rulers, nobilities, and courtiers.
The paintings depicted the faces of all the deities in a round face, streamlined body, and almond-shaped eyes. The artists used flat and natural colors to paint the figures, and the dense composition of these paintings made them distinct from other painting styles. Further, the faces of gods and goddesses are shaded to provide a feeling of depth.
The unique Tanjore painting style is globally acclaimed for its way of creating a three-dimensional effect using gesso work and precious stones.
The Tanjore Artists
Initially, the painting style was practiced by only two communities: the Naidus and Rajus. Both the communities have their roots linked to the Vijayanagara Kingdom. After the downfall of the Rayas of Vijayanagara, the artists moved to Thanjavur, Mysore, and Madurai. The Telugu-speaking artists from the region of Rayalaseema moved to Tamil Nadu during the rule of Nayakas in Thanjavur and Madurai. These Tamil-speaking artists carried the painting style further and passed it onto the skilled Maratha artists, who added innovation to the style and crafted it into the art form as we know it today.
The artists who moved to Mysore created a painting style similar to Tanjore painting, which we know today as Mysore painting. While both the art forms are linked to the Vijayanagara Empire, these two painting styles have developed to be quite distinct from each other. Tanjore paintings are crafted on a wooden plank, whereas Mysore paintings are done on different bases, including cloth, paper, or even wooden boards. Another dissimilarity in these paintings is the use of stones and glass beads. Mysore painting doesn’t include gesso work, stones, gold foil, and glass beads for decoration.
Stylistic Influence of Tanjore Painting
This traditional and royal painting style was not only influenced by the cultural communities that patronized this art form but also got inspiration from other painting styles prominent in the Vijayanagara school, including Tirupati and Kalamkari painting styles. Tirupati paintings, widely seen in the town of Tirupati, used various techniques and mediums to portray deities. These paintings were also decorated with glass beads and gems, just like Tanjore paintings.
Another popular traditional Indian painting style originating from South India, the reverse glass painting, was widely influenced by Tanjore painting. This painting style also portrayed gods and goddesses in vibrant colors and decorated them with gold foils.
Technique and Process of Crafting a Tanjore Masterpiece
Crafting a unique Tanjore painting involves several steps, and the process starts with preparing the canvas for the masterpiece. The whole painting structure lies on the canvas. In the first step, the painting layout is crafted on a canvas base; usually, a muslin cloth pasted on the wooden board is used as the base of the painting. After this, the chalk powder is mixed with Arabic gum and water-soluble adhesive to create a paste. This paste is then spread on the base.
In the next step, the rough sketch is ornamented with glass beads, semi-precious stones, gems, and rich colors. Some artists also use threads and laces to add more appeal to the painting. Then, a thin 24-carat gold foil is pasted on different parts of the painting. The remaining areas are painted with bright red, yellow, and green colors. Due to the use of natural colors, semi-precious stones, and 24-carat gold foils, these exquisite paintings last for generations.
Tanjore paintings are one of the very few traditional Indian painting styles that are still popular. Each painting is crafted with devotion and dedication to portraying Hindu Gods and goddesses depicting a certain phase of their life. A Tanjore painting can be easily seen decorating a Hindu household. Tanjore paintings are ideal for temples, pooja rooms, living rooms, hotels, and workplaces. One can also present Tanjore paintings as a royal and antique gift to their loved ones on various occasions like Diwali, house warming, Pongal, wedding, or any other occasion.
You can find genuine and unique Tanjore paintings at Mangala Arts. Our exclusive range of Tanjore paintings is crafted by skilled artists from the city of Thanjavur. Each painting comes with a 25-year warranty card, providing the feel of authenticity and trust. We also offer customization of painting, allowing our customers to choose the frame and size of the painting according to their choice. We provide shipping services to all across India and other countries, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, France, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and many more. Mangala Arts also ensures that all the paintings are delivered to the customers in excellent conditions as we pack each painting in industry-grade packaging for delivery.