History of Tanjore Painting

It was in the 16th century during the supremacy of the Marathas that this school of painting originated in Thanjavur or Tanjore. It had a restricted production and existed from 17th to 19th Century. Today, a few dedicated artists mostly based in Tamil Nadu, India, keep this tradition alive.

 Before we get into the history of Tanjore paintings, let us take a peek into their significance.

Unlike other works of arts Tanjore paintings follow certain pattern. A typical Tanjore painting would consist of a deity, the main figure, with almond shaped eyes and a well-rounded body. There will be an enclosed space formed by means of curtains, an arch, etc to house this figure. A gem-set or glided technique is used in this painting. To highlight certain aspects of the painting like dresses, ornaments, etc sparkling stones and gold leaves are used. 

The painting would be colourful, bright and breathtakingly beautiful. It would be the centre of attraction in any room as it glows in the dark. A common theme in Tanjore paintings is Child Krishna and his various pranks.  

The stylization of Tanjore paintings has undergone changes over the years. For instance, if you notice the main figures you will understand that they are no longer round. Artists have also started depicting presiding deities of various famous temples. Although the style has changed the technique remains the same.

History & Evolution

 They are named after Thanjavur (called Tanjore in English) in Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India. It is an ancient, miniature type of painting. Thanjavur district is famous for its stunning art and architecture. And among the art forms in this cultural hub, paintings are ranked high. Tanjore painting originated in the 16th century during the Maratha & Nayak period. 

The Maratha rule of Thanjavur started from the late 16th century and lasted for about 2 centuries. It was during a period that witnessed a whole lot of political chaos in South India that the Thanjavur School of painting evolved. Under the patronage of the Nayak & Maratha princes Thanjavur paintings flourished. 

Two main communities practiced this art -- the Naidus in Madurai and the Rajus in Thanjavur. These artists were not from Tamil Nadu; they spoke Telugu and belonged to the "Rayalseema" region. During the Nayaks rule they had moved to Tamil Nadu. The paintings saw little innovation and were rooted in tradition. It was considered as a sacred art by these master craftsmen.

Materials like glass, wood, and mica, as well as unusual media such a murals, ivory, and manuscripts were used for the paintings. Hindu deities and saints were mainly the subjects of these paintings. Secular or courtly portraits were also created. 

The early paintings were embedded with real rubies, diamonds, and other precious stones. Artificial and semi-precious stones gained popularity in the later years. According to historical data, King Sarfoji (who reigned from 1798 to 1832) also popularised this painting.