Tanjore paintings hail from the state of Tamil Nadi in southern India. The art of tanjore painting originated in the 16th century, under royal patronage of the Chola dynasty of the 9th century A.D. Tanjore or Thanjavur as it is called today acquired its name from the ancient pronunciation of the place which was then called Thanjavoor. It was then the capital of the mighty Chola empire. The Chola rulers besides being great warriors, were builders of magnificent temples and great patrons of arts.
It was against this setting that this highly specialised form of art with its characteristically beautiful ornamental relief work flourished.
These paintings are created after a meticulous and long drawn process, which involves many stages. Layers of cloth are pasted over wood, to create the base for painting. This is treated with lime paste, to make the surface smooth for painting. The next step involves, drawing outlines of the figures. Later pearls, semi-precious stones, beaten gold leaf and gilt metal are stuck on the image with a mixture of sawdust and glue. Remaining areas are painted in bright colors.
The main theme of these paintings is the depiction of gods and goddesses. The main figure in the painting is quite big, compared to other figures. The figures are plump, having chubby, angelic faces. Utmost care is taken to depict these figures, which are bedecked with heavy ornamentation.
The distinguishing feature of Tanjore paintings are the embellishments made over the basic drawings with precious and semi-precious stones as well as the relief work which gives them a three dimensional effect. The pictures are of various sizes, ranging from huge works spanning whole walls to small miniatures no longer than 6-inch square.