Art

History shines through the canvas

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Tracing Mysore paintings’ journey from royal kingdoms to galleries.

Mysore painting occupies a unique place in the history of Indian art. Its uninterrupted journey has ensured its presence in modern times through reproductions and vibrant originals by contemporary artists.

In her lecture ‘Traditional Mysore Paintings – An Art Historical Study’ at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, S. Padhma Priya explained that political upheavals had necessitated the migration of artists from the fallen Vijayanagar empire to the Mysore kingdom, established in 1610. Their exceptional skills and in-depth knowledge of Hindu mythology and religion resulted in the flowering of a unique pictorial vocabulary which reached fruition between 1799 -1868 AD during the reign of Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, regarded as the golden age.

Mysore paintings are characterised by the graceful linearity of figures which exude a remarkable elegance, highlighted by a wealth of detail in ornamentation and narrative.

The artist sketches the line drawings on high quality paper, stiffened by a backing of glued paper (wasali) or wood board with cotton cloth. Watercolours mixed with a dab of binder adhesive (maravajra) are applied as pigment. Gesso is the paste used in embossing work. Prepared by adding water to a mix of chalk powder, zinc and maravajra, it is hand-ground to attain a smooth consistency.

The paste is left to settle for two days and once it is ready, details of ornamentation are embossed. Wafer-thin sheets of gold foil, now sourced from Jaipur, are cut, shaped and overlaid. Tiny white dots (makki safedha) are painted to denote pearls. Revelchinne gondhu, a transparent yellow fluid, highlights embossed areas.

An example of extraordinary craftsmanship is evident in the pearls and ‘vyjanthi mala’ adorning goddess Saraswathi in a masterpiece by medal-winning artist Durgada Krishnappa, who has achieved light and shade in the delicate pink sari folds by applying colour over gold foil.

The intricate ‘pin work’ technique wherein the gold foil is indented with hundreds of minute dots using a pin, embellishes a ‘Rama Pattabhisheka’ painting.

The inclusion of text, as inscriptions and slokas within and around forms is seen in some works. A fascinating sample of micro art emerges in lines of repeated inscription of the name ‘Shiva Rama’, so minutely executed all over a king’s tunic and on bunched strands of pearls decorating his throne, that they are indiscernible except when viewed through a magnifying glass. ‘Sritattvanidhi’ was a priceless, illustrated nine-volume manuscript commissioned by Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar III.

During her travels, Padhma located vintage treasures housed in private residences in Nanjangud and Melkote, institutions such as the Ramalingeshwara Rama Mandir and the Mysore and Jaganmohan palaces. Unusual themes and compositions include ‘Yuddhisthira Darbar’, ‘Krishna Leela’ within a shankh and ‘Ramayana’ within a chakra.

Perhaps Padhma’s most rewarding moment came with the chance discovery of a sheaf of stunning line drawings in a forgotten desk drawer. The artist was 80-year-old Kuppachar, a native of Kanchipuram and a retired draughtsman from the Karnataka State Archaeology Department.

When Padhma and archaeology officials organised an exhibition of his works which went on to gain due public recognition, the aged artist was moved to tears. Kuppachar is no more. But for Padhma, their six-year guru-sishya association will be a cherished memory for life.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 4:34:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/art/History-shines-through-the-canvas/article14425920.ece

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