The Chola rulers, besides being great warriors, were builders of magnificent temples and great patrons of the fine arts. It was against this setting that this highly specialized form of art flourished, with its characteristically beautiful ornamental relief work.
The Tanjore School of painting dates back to the 16th century. However, there are only a few paintings that date back that far. In fact, most of the Tanjore paintings in existence today are not even a hundred years old.
The making of a Tanjore painting involves dedicated labor. Each painting is done in stages. In the first stage, layers of cloth are pasted tightly over wood to form the base. A paste is applied on the board to soften it for the drawing. After the drawing is complete, it is enhanced with detailed decorations using semi-precious materials, such as gemstones, cut glass, and pearls.
Relief work is done with a paste, on top of which wafer-like sheets of gold are pasted. The remaining areas are painted using bright colors. The sizes of the figures in the pictures are usually not relative, with the main figure usually being the largest. Faces are chubby or cherubic, figures usually rounded. Utmost care is taken to see that conventional depictions of the Lord’s forms are maintained. All figures are usually heavily decorated with jewelry.
With the passage of time, in an attempt to revive this dying form of art, the usage of a greater and untraditional variety of materials is common. Artists specializing in this form of art have developed techniques whereby easily available materials like chalk powder and glue have replaced materials used centuries ago. However what is remarkable is that there have been no major changes in the final products. Many people today care about and are instrumental in reviving this rare, traditional art from South India, so that it never fades away from India’s cultural folklore.