May 22 2013
Nearly a thousand years ago, the rulers of South India encouraged artists to produce religious pictures in a unique style. Called Thanjavur after its city of origin, it is known in the Western world as Tanjore. It involves an elaborate combination of paint, gold leaf, jewels, thread and fabric. The beautiful and fascinating art of tanjore painting still lives. Once accessible only to royalty, today it is available in many places that sell art online.
Located in Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur has been a major religious and cultural center since its founding in the 5th century CE. The ruling Chola Dynasty began expanding its influence and territory in the 9th century with the goal of unifying all of South India. By stabilizing the region, they created an environment where people could live comfortably and had time for educational and creative pursuits. It is in this period that Tanjore art came to prominence.
A traditional Tanjore painting is usually done on a specially prepared piece of unbleached cotton that has been glued to a wood panel. The outlines of the planned image are drawn onto the fabric, and an embossing mixture applied to areas that will be decorated. Gems, pearls, thread, lace and gold foil are added in the appropriate places. Ancient artists used diamonds, rubies and other precious stones. Today’s paintings are more likely to include semi-precious stones, crystals or high-quality glass.
The actual painting is one of the last steps. In former times, vegetable dyes were used. Modern Tanjore artists use specially manufactured paints or even poster colors. The original or classic color style is very bold and bright. The antique style is softer and more subtle. Embossed style is like classic but has a three-dimensional immediacy.
Affordable Tanjore art can be found in artists’ home galleries and in shops all over South India. Import stores that sell art online are another good place to find Tanjore pictures. Most of this art is produced by families, with techniques handed down for many generations. Anyone who is willing to devote long patient hours to mastering the techniques and materials can learn to create art in this lovely style. There are even online classes. While traditional art depicts the Hindu gods and divine heroes, Tanjore style today can take the form of Christian icons and even non-religious subjects.