The Mysore School of Paintings


Lord Visnu
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Oct 03, CANADA (SUN) — The Mysore School of painting is a rich, traditional art form of South India which emerged from the cultural tradition of the Vijayanagar Empire. The Vijayanagar tradition of painting produced three distinct schools of painting, namely the Deccani School (Sultanate), Mysore School and the Tanjore School.

Artists from the state of Mysore, now known as Karnataka, began to produce their distinct and beautiful style of paintings during the 17th and 18th centuries. These devotional artworks encompass a broad array of styles. While the Tanjore and Mysore Schools are uniquely different, the pieces look quite similar in many ways. Other Mysore pieces are more reminiscent of contemporary Ravi Varma classics, lush in color and texture.

Over their history, Mysore was governed by many rulers who had a strong enthusiasm for the arts, including both architecture and painting. Beautiful artworks of the School can be found intricately painted inside temples, palaces and forts throughout the state.

Mysore Palace

Raja Woodeyar (1578-1617 AD) made a significant contribution to the work of throughout Mysore. He built two temples, one at Sri Rangapatna and the other at Ganjam for Nimishamba Devi, a deity worshipped by the artist community. During this period, the Raja engaged artists in many different forms of art, including decorative temple works, painting ratha Yatra chariots and temple banners, and portraiture of the famous Deities, saints and rulers of the day.

The themes depicted in most Mysore paintings were taken from Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Among the most popular themes are Radha and Krishna, Ambegalu Krishna, Dasavatara, Shri Rama Pattabhisheka, Kodanada Rama, Rajarajeswari, Tandaveshvara, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Chamundeswari, Visvarupadarsha, and Samudramanthana.

Rajarajeshwari (Divine Mother)

Many traditional Mysore paintings from the Raja Woodeyar era still survive, being found on the walls of Jagan Mohan Palace in Mysore, Tirumalleshwara Temple at Hiriyur, Narsimha temple at Sibi, the Jaina Matha at Shravanabelgola, Mallikaarjuna Temple at Mudukutore, Birupaksha temple at Hampi, Prasannakrishnaswami Temple, Krishna and Varaha Temples in Mysore and Divyalingeshwara Temple at Haradanahalli.

During the reign of Mummadi Krishnaraja in 1799 AD, Mysore experienced a renaissance in the arts, with temple murals illustrating many transcendental and mundane pastimes. Mural works adhered to a strict iconography, and many were acquired by royal and wealthy merchants. After another lull in popularity, the Mysore School was again revitalized with the establishment in 1875 of the Jagan Mohan Palace and the Chitrakala School.

Ganjiff scene from Ramayana
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Today, Mysore School paintings can be found in Mysore, Bangalore, Narasipura, Tumkur, Sravanabelagola and Nanjangud, and in all these places, pockets of devotional adherents are keeping the art alive.

Mysore Painting Techniques

The Mysore School has a strong classical theoretical authority, as evidenced by the many inscriptions and written evidences which prescribe the norms and principles of its production. The Sritattvanidhi is an authoritative guide to the School's style, being composed under the royal patronage of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. The Visnudharmottara Purana, Abhilasitarthacintamani and Sivatatvaratnakara are also authoritative documents instructing in the art of Mysore painting.

The Sritattvanidhi

Mysore School artists of the day used pigments from various botanicals and minerals, ground to a soft paste. Canvases might be of paper, wood, wall or cloth, depending on the image content and installation. Today, of course, the painting is done with commercially available colours and papers, which are often pasted onto board with glue or adhesive, making an inexpensive canvas for the artist.

Draft sketches were done in pencil, or traced and transferred onto the prepared surface using carbon paper. Sketching was originally done with charcoal, prepared by burning tamarind twigs in an iron tube. Brushes were made of many different materials, including squirrel, camel and goat hair, while glass blades were sometimes employed for making sharp lines.

Sri Sri Radha-Krsna

Sketches were coated with gesso, applied thickly where embellishments were going to be made. Design work was carried out on the mandapams, jewelries, ornaments and clothing by using a specially prepared compound and a brush. Once the surface had dried, gold foils were put in place and adhered to the surface. Finally, the painting was done. As a finishing step, the entire piece was burnished, by putting a thin paper over the surface and rubbing with a smooth stone. This brought out the richness and relief work done in gold foils.

Comparing Mysore and Tanjore Schools

There are noticeable differences between the Mysore School and Tanjore School styles of painting which give them their distinct identities:

    1. Mysore paintings are typically made on a paper that is applied to board, while the Tanjore paintings are done on cloth that is mounted on board.

    2. For the gesso work, Mysore painters preferred white lead (safeda) and makhigamboge (yellow) taken from the juice of revanachinihalu. The Tanjore School artists, however, used raw lime powder with a tamarind seed paste for their gesso work.

    3. The gesso art of the Mysore School was of low relief, while the Tanjore school artists applied gesso in quite high relief.

    4. The Tanjore School generally used gold-coated silver wafers to highlight the ornaments and certain other areas of paintings. The Mysore School used a 24-k pure gold instead of silver leaf.

    5. Tanjore paintings are usually embellished with precious stones like diamonds, pearls, rubies, amber and other precious or semi-precious materials. The Mysore School did not rely on these embellishments.

    6. Both the Mysore and Tanjore School motifs depicted pastimes from Vedic sastra, while the Mysore School paintings also had a great affinity for fashionable icons of the day.

Lord Nathji


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