Thanjavur Painting, Mysore Painting, Nathadwara Painting
The crux of the India painting at any given period was the religious sentiment and the changing climate of the various dynasties making the warp and weft of the art fabric.
This was more so during the Maratha period (17th-19th Century AD) in Thanjavur, where the foreign trading companies had established their foothold. The printing press was introduced and paper manufacturing commenced. This had a definite impact on the art scene. The most powerful branch of the pictorial art of the period was the making of religious icon paintings, which had evolved into an exclusive, distinctive and highly influential style in the name of Thanjavur painting and the credit goes to Serfoji Maharaja of Thanjavur.
Due to political upheaval and lack of royal patronage in Thanjavur, temples became the stronghold of the Brahmins. Worship of bronzes was curtailed, as it needed elaborate ritualistic performances by the priests. Material available for bronze idols was also limited as they were diverted for making guns.
Icon paintings became the object of worship. The use of gold leaf, gilding and gem setting prevalent in Moghul, Rajasthani and Deccan paintings reached South India. The technique was taken over by Viswakarmas (artist, jewelers and architects all rolled into one) who started working on this new media, putting in their expertise in related fields. They were Telugu speaking people using the suffix Raja, Raju or Naidu after their names. The same community practiced this art from Thanjavur, Tiruchinappalli, Pudukottai, Karnataka (Vijayanagar Feudatories) an Andhra. This probably explains the occurrence of icon paintings in these areas with local flavor.
Paintings of Vaishnavite Deities and later of Saivaite Deities were introduced (Icon Paintings). The Bhakthi Movement heralded paintings of Alwars (Vaishnavite saints) Nayanmars (Saivite saints) and Sikh Saints (Potrait Painting), Kathakalakshepam (religious discourses) influenced paintings of episodes from The Mahabharata, the Ramayana, Devibhagavadam, Bhagvad Gita etc. (Narrative or Secular Painting) Ingeniousness of the painters resulted in novel themes like the architectural layout of a temple.
Thanjavur paintings are known as Palagaipadams (pictures done on wood). Jackwood plank is covered with paper using gum made from tamarind seeds and covered with unbleached cotton cloth. The cloth is coated with Sukkan (unboiled limestone) ground with gum. The surface is polished with a smooth stone. The paintings confirm to iconographic conventions. The principal deity faces forwards and is often enthroned, accompanied by consorts and votaries, depicted with proper attributes. The deity may be housed in a pavilion (Deccan influence) of cusped arches or standing under a stylized tree forming a canopy. The figures are plump and heavy and those of the women are rather short, squat, fair and round cheeked. The women are wearing sarees and cholis of the Maharashtrian style, while the make supernatural beings wear dhotis and are crowned and jeweled like a prince. The jewellery and garland reflect the Vijayanagara tradition. Jewels, drapery and architectural elements are slightly raised as in low relief by the use of special plaster and are covered with gold leaf.
The gold work and decoration may seem excessive from an aesthetic point of view, but when placed inside the Pooja room (prayer room located in the centre of the house) which is normally dark and lit only by a traditional Kuthuvilakku (oil wick lamp), the impact is that of a glowing presence (compare with the Shekawati murals in the havelis of Rajasthan).
The older Thanjavur paintings had perfect relief work, very little gold embossing and used pastel colours like grey-blue (photograph). Precious stones were introduced (photograph). Bejewelled glasses, mirror, semi-precious stones and chatans started replacing precious stones. Later, the whole concept became craft oriented with less of painting and more of ornamentation against dark rich colours. Secular or narrative paintings were also done in the Thanjavur style. The paintings as the murals, are characterized by the use of earth colours such as sikappu kavi (red oxide), manjal kavi (yellow oxide), villakkumai and kamai (lamp black and charcoal), pachai (terra verte) and mayilrahu neelam (lapis lazuli) with stylized modeling effects by shading the inside of the contours.
With the advent of European traders, winged Apsaras or Gandharvas carrying flowers and musical instruments (even imported violins and harmoniums), chandeliers, clocks, Victorian furniture started appearing in the pictures. Ivory paintings also had their impact (colour photograph, Durbar museum 428/52). In portraiture, there were two phases. The first phase was of an off-shoot of Maratha portraiture (photograph – Venkaji, the first ruler of Thanjavur, on horseback or D67/51 museum). In the second phase, marked attention was given to the environment, an influence from European art was crudely imitated (photograph museum 171/43-73).
Along with Thanjavur paintings, a separate though related tradition of painting on glass, mica, ivory, leather, playing cards and wooden shrines (Tirupathi, Andhra) were introduced for the first time in South India. All of them had similar theme and overall impact like Thanjavur paintings but the technique varied to suit the medium (photograph icon paintings on mica, ivory, playing cards museum). These were minor arts executed mainly for European markets.
Glass painting was introduced by Chinese painters. In Thanjavur, Karnataka and Andhra, local artists adopted the technique for creating inexpensive devotional paintings. As the sequence of step was reversed – after the picture was drawn, it was shaded and the decorated with gold leaf, often the picture had a flat single dimensional effect with a folk art quality. As in Thanjavur paintings, secular themes such as, women highly stylized and portraiture with some effort to infuse reality, were executed.
These techniques spread in Western and Southern India and examples in regional styles are found in Uttar Pradesh (Mathura), Rajasthan (Nathdwara), Bihar, Orissa (Puri) and Bengal.
Prototype of the Thanjavur style originated at Tirupathi, Andhra (Jaya Appasamy Thanjavur Painting of Maratha period pp.27 1980, Abhinav Publications, India) is supported by the early appearance of the style an with similarities to Vijayanagara school, exemplified by the paintings in the ceilings of the Virupaksha Temple at Hampi.
The Marathas had annexed most of the Deccan overthrowing the Mughals, thus forming a corridor from North to South. As a result, each area with a local culture merged with an enriched the culture of a neighbouring area. Iconic paintings arose in places where there is a religious movement around a specific deity. The portrayal is stylized, images identified with the deity, to cater to the needs of pilgrims. Typical examples are of Srinathji in Nathdwara (Rajasthan), Jagannath in Puri (Orissa) and Krishna in Mathura (Uttar Pradesh).
The Nathdwara style belongs to the Mewar School with its own peculiarities. The style began in 1671 when Srinathji’s statue was brought from Brij to Nathdwara.
The fine art of painting was reduced to craft and imitative painting by the 18th century. By the early part of the 19th century, European painting techniques began to influence the art scene. The new medium of oil painting by Raja Ravi Varma started replacing the murals and his portrayal of Gods and Goddesses and their litho-prints started replacing the icon paintings.
Under the auspices of Kalakshetra (Madras), Chettinad School (Madras) Karnataka Chitrakala Parishad (Bangalore) traditional art forms are being revived by veteran painters like K. Sreenivasulu, S. Kuppuswamy Raja and Y. Subramanya Raju. Designs, motifs and sketches are available in Guruparampara Tradition (line drawings).
Similar to mica, ivory and glass, new mediums like fibre-glass, transparent plastics etc are used. Even for gesso work, synthetic adhesives have started replacing natural gum. However, the old techniques which have stood the test of time are still followed with great verve.