Tanjore painting also known asThanjavur Oviyam is a major form of classical South Indian painting from the town of Thanjavur (anglicized as Tanjore) in Tamil Nadu, India. The art form dates back to about 1600 AD, a period when the Nayakas of Thanjavur encouraged art chiefly, classical dance and music as well as literature, both in Telugu and Tamil. Tanjore paintings are known for their surface richness, vivid colors, compact composition and especially the glittering gold foils used to give the paintings their rich look . Essentially serving as devotional icons, the subjects of most paintings are Hindu gods, goddesses, and saints. Episodes from Hindu tradition are drawn upon as elaborations of the main figure or figures placed in the central section of the picture. Tanjore paintings are panel paintings done on solid wood planks, and hence referred to as palagai padam (palagai = “wooden plank”; padam = “picture”) in local parlance. In modern times, these paintings have become souvenirs of festive occasions in South India, pieces to decorate walls, and collectors’ items for art lovers.
Making a Tanjore painting involves many stages. First the artist makes a preliminary sketch of the image on the base, which is a piece of cloth pasted onto wood. Then chalk powder or zinc oxide is mixed with water-soluble adhesive and applied on the base. Sometimes a mild abrasive is used to make the base smoother. After the drawing is made, the jewellery and apparel in the image are decorated with semi-precious stones known as Jaipur stones. Lace or thread is also used to decorate the jewellery. A mixture called “muk” is prepared using chalk powder and African gum in a ratio of 2:1. The muk is applied in places around the stones and other areas to give an embossed look. Gold foil is pasted on top of this. Finally, dyes are used to add color to the figures in the paintings.
High-quality gold foil is used to ensure that the paintings last generations. Paintings come in three finishes: classic, antique style and embossed. In the classic finish, bold colors and striking backgrounds are combined with high-glitter gold foil, while in the antique style, the gold’s glitter is more sober, with more subtle colors and plain backgrounds. The embossed paintings are similar to the classic style but are embossed to give greater depth.
The figures in Tanjore paintings are static and located in the center inside beautifully decorated arches or curtains. Eyes are broad; the outer lines are either brown or red; for Krishna they are blue. Originally only Krishna figures were painted but now a variety of figures are depicted.