The Tanjore painting is known for its brilliance and a jewel-like rich look, which its artists created by using real gold & silver foils, and inlay material - precious and semi-precious stones, beads, mirrors, coloured glass-pieces, powdered metals - gold in particular. A patron's financial status and willingness to spend determined the value-wise quality of the material used, though despite that the overall aesthetic merit of the painting depended on how the artist, working with the material, used it. The gems or even the palette, used in a particular painting was not always the choice of the artist. Sometimes, a person's astrologer decided as to which of the stones and colours would suit him and same were broadly used in the painting rendered for him. Many a time a patron believed that the best of his possessions - jewels, were a Divine custody, things of the Lord, and to symbolize it preferred keeping them as inlaid with the Lord's canvas image believing that this image was one of His manifestations and anything dedicated to such image was his direct dedication to Him (Lord).
Tanjore or Thanjavur Painting is a classical South indian painting style, which originated in the town of Thanjavur/Tanjore in Tamil Nadu, India during the reign of the Marathas and Nayakas in the 18th century. These paintings are characterized by rich vibrant colors, dashes of gold, semi-precious stones & fine artistic work. Most of the paintings were of Hindu deities & saints. Other courtly & secular portraits were also created.
Tanjore or Thanjavur had been for centuries a great centre of dance, music, architecture & arts. However, it was around the 18th Century when Thanjavur's inherent creative genius turned to Miniature paintings when its Maratha rulers brought to it some level of stability & economic prosperity. The said Tamil culture, its rich literary traditions & teachings of domiciled Telugu and Kannada saints cross-fertilized with the Maratha spirit of adventure , their vigorous life-style & fervour of their devotional literature & religious legacy and out of it was born an era of overall development & great creativity.
Tanjore miniature painting, the most glaring aspect of this renaissance, trans-shifting of a theme and the material medium reprepresenting it from the temple wall to a small canvas - usually a piece of cloth, was in vogue by around the middle of the 18th Century itself; though it was only by the first half of the 19th Century that it reached an unprecedented level of maturity and magnificence. Tanjore paintings are miniatures by their technique, not by the size of their canvas, which is often large.
Tanjore Paintings can be referred as a panel painting methodology mainly done over wooden panels by the artists of Tanjore. Most of the paintings have a main figure in the centre, and many minute sub figures are filled around it within the border. One of the peculiarities of these paintings is that it is extremely colourful and even minute details are done to achieve maximum perfection. Glittery gold patches are also seen in some paintings to depict the royal and divine look.
Tanjore paintings may broadly be divided into 3 categories - one, devoted to Vaishnavism portraying images of Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, Lakshmi & other Vaishnava gods; two, devoted to Shaivism portraying various forms of Shiva, Parvati, Karttikeya or Subramanya, Ganesha & other Shaiva deities and three, the portraits of various Kings, saints & others. Paintings belonging to the first 2 categories are Tanjore's main thrust & are in abundance but some of the paintings of the third category, especially those portraying King Shivaji II in various aspects and his durbar scene, are excellent. It was during the tenure of Shivaji II (1833-55 A.D.) & under his patronage that Tanjore painting attained its ever greatest heights. Krishna of all gods has been the most favoured theme of Tanjore artists.
The primary colors used in Tanjore paintings are red, green, blue, black and white. Blue is used in light tint as well as in navy blue-type dark, and both tints have often been used to define the sky. The ocean is figured in Tanjore paintings rarely. Yellow is sparingly used. Pink, amongst the lighter tints, has a wider use. Besides the body colour, it has also been used to represent various other articles. Instead of the blue-hued Krishna, Krishna of the Tanjore painting is pinkish with red defining the outline of the figure. His figure has been conceived with marble's translucence and butter-like softness. The Tanjore painter replaced with deep green the conventional blue body-colour of Vishnu, Rama, Vishnu's other incarnations, Rama's brother Bharat and others. Parvati, due to her gold like complexion has been conceived in the Tanjore painting as deep green. The Tanjore artist arranged his palette, particularly red, green and black, in striking contrast, contrasting mutually as well as against gold and other inlay material. Gold is a brilliant metal but in Tanjore painting, with red, green & black around it, its brilliance magnifies to its optimum.
Gold is perhaps the most dazzling aspect of Tanjore. The massive use of gold imparts to the Tanjore painting its unique distinction and very special character. During the early phase of Tanjore painting, gold was restrictively used. In the quality of its portraiture, this early Tanjore painting was unsurpassed. It was different during its subsequent phase. Extensive use of gold now left relatively lesser space for the coloured zone now. The role of the brush and the artist's individual skill were subordinated to the dazzling magnificence of gold. This deteriorated the overall quality of the painting, of portraiture in particular. The paintings of the later phase favoured portraying individual isolated deities with larger iconic figures. They were hardly composed with other deities of the pantheon or with the groups of their own subsidiary gods. The early Tanjore painting was more elaborately composed and revealed a greater variety and also a strong unity of various sects of the pantheon.
Huge Tanjore Paintings are now used to fill the free walls of heritage and luxurious hotels as it is a symbol of ethnicity. The ethnic appeal offered by these paintings is simply superb and tempting. Such items are rare and exclusive. This unique character and perfect blend of artistic skills with colour makes it one of the must have master pieces at home. The three dimensional effect it radiates is mind probing and fabulous. Most of the pictures have red colour as background and every minute space in the canvas gets filled with detailing. This practise of detailing minute elements imparts a special look to the painting.