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Identifying the Differences Between Tanjore and Mysore Painting

Determining the Differences Between Tanjore and Mysore Painting

Each Indian art form is a testament to a unique community with its own regional styles, techniques, and motifs. Even though some art forms evolved at the same time, they later gained peculiar characteristics that were associated either with the people who were practising them or the place they were being practised. Two of the most celebrated styles in South Indian art are Tanjore and Mysore paintings. Both offer distinct visual aesthetics and cultural narratives. In this blog, Rooftop will guide you through the differences between Tanjore and Mysore painting by comparing their origins, history, and styles.

Difference Between Tanjore and Mysore Painting: Origins and History

Place of Origin

Tanjore and Mysore paintings may appear similar at first glance, but that’s because they share a common origin. Both schools evolved from the Vijayanagar School of Painting. This ancient school separated into different sub-schools as local artist communities came up with different styles and interpretations.

The Vijayanagar School of Painting marked the revival of mythological Hindu art and imagery in south India. Most of the paintings of this time period were murals created in temples. After the battle of Talikot, the powerful Vijayanagar empire fell, causing the artists that worked there to lose their patronage. They thus moved to neighbouring regions like Mysore, Tanjavur, etc.

Stylistic Evolution

Differences Between Tanjore and Mysore Painting
A Tanjore glass painting (image source:

Tanjore painting evolved in Tanjore, or Tanjavur, as it was formerly known. It developed throughout the 16th and 17th century and flourished in the late 17th century under the patronage of the Maratha empire. Tanjavur soon became a centre of arts and culture. At first, most paintings were of religious deities in stiff postures, but the gradual influence of other art forms helped the artists paint more natural and realistic poses.

Mysore painting developed in south Karnataka, in the princely state of Mysore. Under the patronage of Krishnaraja Wadiyar, the traditional arts and culture of the region thrived spectacularly. Artists painted on cloth, wood, paper, and murals. At first, the themes of Mysore painting were strictly religious, but artists soon began painting portraits and landscapes.

Style Inspiration

Differences Between Tanjore and Mysore Painting
European-inspired painting at Murugar Temple near Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu (image source:

Both styles drew inspiration from several different sources. Many South Indian artists were inspired by the realistic depictions and scientific perspective employed in European paintings. Artists drew inspiration from company style paintings and began to paint more portraits, flora, and fauna. They also adopted motifs like cherubs and angels. Under British rule, painting became more commercialised than before. This led to both Tanjore and Mysore styles breaking away from traditional themes and concepts and exploring contemporary subjects as well.

Differences Between Tanjore and Mysore Painting: Materials

Tools and Techniques

Tanjore paintings are created on a cloth that is stretched over a wooden frame. The artists mix raw lime powder and tamarind seed paste and use this mixture to create high-relief gesso work. In Tanjore painting, artists originally used gold leaf. However, as the art became more commercialised, gold leaf was abandoned in favour of gold paper or gold-coated silver leaf.

Some artists also use wooden cardboard to increase the thickness of the relief work and give it a three-dimensional appearance. The Tanjore artist uses pearls, precious stones, and glass embellishments to decorate paintings. The process of preparing the canvas is more rigorous as well. They are known for their vivid colour palettes, heavy embellishment and embossing.

Mysore paintings are created on paper. Artists use white lead paste, Gamboge (yellow) extracted from the juice of the Revana Chinnihalu tree, and gum arabic to create the gold-tinted gesso paste. While the style is a bit less exaggerated with low relief work, it is much more detailed and features delicate linework, especially on clothing, jewellery, and decorative elements.

Mysore artists use thin and delicate pure gold leaf, which makes the paintings durable and also adds lustre. Since the foil is thinner than Tanjore paintings, it is much more difficult and time-consuming to handle. Mysore paintings also feature a more subdued colour palette.

Differences Between Tanjore and Mysore Painting: Styles

Traditional and Cultural Aspects

Both Tanjore and Mysore paintings depict scenes from Hindu mythology. The attire, hairstyles, and ornamentation reflect the trends popular in earlier periods, specifically among royalty. They also reflect the customs and traditions of their individual communities.

Tanjore paintings are conservative in their subject matter and primarily feature religious themes and depictions of deities as the central subjects. On the other hand, while religious and spiritual imagery does feature in mysore paintings, they are versatile in subject matter. Mysore paintings frequently contain secular themes and landscapes, portraits of aristocrats, and some depictions of everyday life.

Differences Between Tanjore and Mysore Painting: Colours

Mysore paintings always have black and yellow borders, while the main figures are painted yellow to distinguish them from the background. The main colours of these paintings are the primary colours: red, green, and blue. This limited colour palette was due to the fact that all paints were made from natural pigments. Mysore artists looked for various vegetables, flowers, leaves, stones, soil, etc. and used these natural resources to create colours like red, yellow, green, blue, black, and white.

For example, the artists would fill a copper container with lemon juice and set it aside until the mixture created with the metal turned green. They would use this process to create green paint. They underpainted the parts to be painted gold with yellow paint and attached gold foil to those places with gesso paste. Then they added details to the foil with a mixture of Indian ink and paint. This step also reduced its glossy appearance.

(image source: Tamil Tanjore Art Gallery)

Tanjore paintings feature a range of rich and deep colours and tones. Backgrounds are usually deep shades of red, blue, or green. The Tanjore artist uses linework to add fine details and renders the composition with minimal shading. Gold is used extensively; sometimes an entire Tanjore painting can be covered with gold. Tanjore artists inlay the gold foil work with red, white, and green coloured stones and cut glass pieces to create the illusion of precious gems and jewels.

How do the Differences between Tanjore and Mysore Painting make them Unique?

While Tanjore painting is luxurious, opulent and spiritual, Mysore painting is refined, delicate, and versatile. These exquisite styles are both gems of South Indian art. Despite the differences between Tanjore and Mysore art, they are both similar in the way they capture the hearts of artists and art collectors. These paintings are found in homes as devotional objects and in art galleries and collections as a testament to the creative skills of the artists.

Interested in learning more about the differences between similar folk art forms? Download the Rooftop App from Google Play or the App Store  and check out our upcoming workshops on traditional art forms.

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By Melissa D’Mello

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