The Use of Colors in Tanjore Paintings

Tanjore paintings depict mainly the scenes from the ancient scriptures of the Hindu religion and are one of the most famous styles of paintings from south India.

Unique – Tanjore Painting

These tanjore painting are unique due to the harmony of colors, the design, and the traditional techniques used with meticulous attention to detail.

Tanjore derives its name from the capital of the Chola empire, which is Thanjavur. This place has one of the beautiful temples of Lord Shiva-Brigadeeswara temple. This art form was developed with the patronage of the Maratha rulers in the eighteenth century. This type of art is famous for its ornamental relief work flourished with the patronage of the kings. The process of making a Tanjore painting requires dedicated skilled labor.

There are many stages during the making of these paintings. The canvas is usually a plank of teak wood, which is over a layer of cloth is pasted, which is applied on top to soften the beard. The surface is smoothened by rubbing it with a smooth emery paper. The artist draws a detailed sketch on the board. Semi-precious stones of different colors are used to decorate the painting. In earlier days, diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones were used.

To create a three-dimensional embossed effect, layers of paste prepared from the glue and limestone are applied. After carrying out the detailed relief work, wafer-like sheets of twenty-two-carat gold are pasted on top. Bright colors are used to fill up the remaining areas, then the main figures in the picture is large and the other figures may not be relative.

New Skills Developed

New techniques have been developed by skilled artists to keep this form of art alive. Chalk powder and modern synthetic pasting material have replaced the traditional materials. Modern-day artists use chemical paints instead of vegetable dyes for colors and shades, but still, enormous care is exercised in adhering to tradition while depicting the pictures.

The Rajput painter had inherited a legacy of mural painting as well as the art of the book, where a pictorial scheme with color as a principal means of visual articulation was designed. Conspicuously, he retained the color of complexions, costumes, and architecture as local, while playing up the tenor of the natural environment in low or high key, or changing them altogether from their normal hues. The strength of many Rajput paintings rests in balancing the tension of the two. It meant that the world of the natural environment was conceived through the eyes of human images who inhabited it and not through an objective view from outside. It afforded the artist an opportunity to improvise a color scheme to match the mood of the image portrayed through the environment, approximating its fluctuations by raising or lowering the tenor of color.

Unique Colors in Tanjore Painting

Color is not viewed empirically as a consequence of refraction of light, since its use is not necessarily descriptive. This counters the notion of color being local to objects of optical perception so integral to impressionistic art. It refers to light metaphorically as a source that vivifies, heightens, or mellows the field of vision, but the light should be distinguished from daylight or artificial light with their contingent shadows. Dark and shadows as means of formal articulation and concealment so predominant a factor in European painting are also conspicuously absent here.

The night scenes, except in the very late miniatures increasingly under the influence of European art, are usually rendered in full or filtered light of the moon or lamps with total visibility and night's presence indicated by conventional symbols. This distinguishes it from the representation of atmosphere in European painting as well. The Impressionist use of color to represent light and air is equally alien to Rajput painting. In the Impressionist scheme, the change of color meant a negation of browns and blacks as shadows and an aesthetic confirmation of the new theory of light according to the invention of the prism.

The smooth, almost expansive treatment of parts of the body allows for a dynamic comment on the sense of the observer's own movement and elongation. Whereas the emotion may be static, like that in still life, the ground is capable of movement and interaction with the viewer. The main character or subject may be large as in a landscape, but its presence is felt through its depiction in relation to other objects.

Painter has to Adapt

The painter has to adapt to his own sensations and expectations in tanjore painting, but at every stage, there are technical rules which must be observed. While some are historical methods of executing paintings as those derived from mural architecture and book illustrations, others are not precise enough to cause confusion about their meaning or use in painting.


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  1. author
    27 Aug 2019
    Tomas Mandy

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    1. author
      27 Aug 2019
      Britney Millner

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    27 Aug 2019
    Simon Downey

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