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What Makes Tanjore Painting Special?

What Makes Tanjore Painting Special?
mangala arts

Tanjore paintings, also referred to as Thanjavur paintings, derive their name from the distinctive artistic style that thrived in the District of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. Originating during the Nayaka rule in the 16th century, this artistic form flourished and evolved under the Maratha rule in the 17th century. It was during the Maratha reign that the city of Thanjavur emerged as the epicenter of art, learning, music, and architecture.

The essence of Tanjore paintings lies in their representation on wooden planks, earning them the moniker of ‘Palagai Padam.’ This art form evolved from mural art, drawing its iconography from the Shaivite and Vaishnavite traditions. The paintings boast a three-dimensional, jewel-like appearance achieved through the skillful use of glass beads, mirrors, semi-precious and precious stones, as well as lustrous gold foils. Known for their opulent depiction of Hindu deities, these artworks dazzle with rich colors and elaborate embellishments, including shimmering 24-carat gold foils.

Over the centuries, Tanjore paintings have undergone various transformations, yet they continue to captivate art enthusiasts, serving as a true source of inspiration for many artists.

The Singular Attributes of Tanjore Paintings

Esteemed as divine in their approach, these ancient and vintage masterpieces primarily depict Hindu mythological Gods and Goddesses adorned with resplendent ornaments, exuding vibrant hues. A distinctive feature lies in the cherubic plumpness of the deities’ faces, imparting an aura of purity to the paintings. While each artwork remains rooted in its cultural origins, skilled artisans infuse their own imagination and creativity to render each Tanjore painting unique.

Every Tanjore painting is distinguished by its iconic composition, vivid colors, the use of precious and semi-precious stones, glass inlay, gesso work, and shimmering gold foil. The deployment of precious stones lends a radiant glow to the ornaments and structures within the painting, while the gold foil imparts an everlasting luminosity.

Highlighted features of these exquisite Tanjore Paintings are:

  1. Wooden Plank: As the name ‘Palagai Padam’ implies, these traditional paintings are meticulously crafted on wooden planks, typically hewn from teak or jackfruit wood. This rarity in employing wooden boards makes Tanjore paintings truly distinct in the realm of artistic expression.
  2. Opulent Colors: Artists predominantly favor primary and vibrant colors, eschewing dull tones in favor of blue, green, yellow, or red backgrounds and attire for the deities.
  3. Glistening Gold Foil: A hallmark of Tanjore paintings is the application of glittering gold foil, setting them apart from other art styles. This use of gold foil imparts a resplendent glow to dresses, ornaments, and embellishments, accentuating the beauty of each artwork.
  4. Precious and Semi-precious Stones: These stones are intricately engraved or affixed to the wooden plank using limestone. They serve to adorn the ornaments, dresses, and structures, enhancing the artwork’s allure alongside the gold.
  5. Gesso Work: A unique technique employed in Tanjore paintings, precise gesso work imparts a striking three-dimensional effect to the artwork. Portions of the paintings are raised from the surface, creating a captivating visual impact.
  6. Use of Natural Colors: In earlier times, artists extracted colors from fruits and vegetables to paint Tanjore masterpieces. To this day, skilled artisans from South India favor natural and eco-friendly colors for their artistic creations.
  7. Precision in Intricate Work: Crafting a Tanjore painting demands a high level of intricacy and attention to detail. The dedicated focus on precision is a hallmark of every Tanjore painting, making them a spectacle to behold.

The Historical Narrative of Tanjore Paintings

The genesis of this unique art style draws inspiration from the flourishing art of the Vijayanagara Rayas during the 16th century. Patronized by the Nayaka governors of South India, who were ardent supporters of art and literature, Tanjore paintings share distinct characteristics with the popular Mural artform of that era. It was during the Maratha rule in 1676 that Tanjore paintings reached their zenith. Maratha artists adorned these paintings with cut glasses, precious stones, and gold foil, bestowing them with a luminous and three-dimensional appeal. The palaces and edifices of Maratha rulers proudly showcased grand Tanjore paintings depicting deities, rulers, nobilities, and courtiers.

The depiction of gods and goddesses in Tanjore paintings features round faces, streamlined bodies, and almond-shaped eyes. Artists employed flat and natural colors, and the dense composition of these artworks set them apart from other painting styles. The shading of deities’ faces imparted depth and dimension to their divine visages.