Volume 69 Number 4, June 2018

Thanjavur's Gilded Gods: South Indian Paintings in the Kuldip Singh Collection

By: Anna L. Dallapiccola with Kuldip Singh and R.G. Singh
Binding: Hardcover
Specifications: 180 pages, 160 illustrations
ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2
Dimensions: 305 x 241 mm

Thanjavur paintings are among the most popular artworks that adorn the walls of Indian homes—avidly collected but little comprehended. This richly illustrated volume presents an enhanced understanding of the subject through an in-depth study of South Indian paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries in the Thanjavur and the allied Mysuru styles.

The meticulously researched text showcases and engages with Kuldip Singh's unique collection of 300 paintings. Also included are painted prints, some reverse-glass works and a few lithographs. These cover a wide range of idioms and themes: from the domain of gods and goddesses and the sites and stories associated with their worship, we come down to the realm of their human patrons with portraits made of maharajas, priests and ordinary individuals. We also gain a glimpse of the different regions and schools that come under the larger ambit of the term "South Indian" paintings.

A historical and cultural background provides an overview and context to the material while a description of technique and an analysis of styles highlights an aesthetic appreciation. In addition to a focus on the process of conserving and preserving these works, the book looks at the contemporary status of this form which is experiencing a revival within the art market.

Anna L. Dallapiccola, formerly professor of Indian Art at the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University, is Honorary Professor at Edinburgh University. Her most recent publications are South Indian Painting: A Catalogue of the British Museum Collection (2010); The Great Platform at Vijayanagara (2010); Indian Painting: The Lesser Known Traditions (2011); Kalamkari Temple Hangings (2015) and Reverse Glass Painting in India (2017). A monograph on the Lepakshi temple, co-authored with George Michell, is forthcoming. She is presently collaborating with Anila Verghese on a research project concerning the art of the Vijayanagara successor states.

Kuldip Singh is an architect and town planner, functioning as a consultant on important architectural and urban design projects. During extensive travels over 40 years in South India he gathered a collection of Thanjavur and Mysuru paintings. He is self-taught about the art and crafts of South India, and recently organized a conservation laboratory in his office at Delhi where the work of dating the paintings continues.

R.G. Singh is the Secretary of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana, Mysuru, an art trust. He has been collecting Mysuru paintings since 1987, and has been instrumental in patronizing the revival of this style. A sizeable collection is housed in a private museum of the trust. He has lectured extensively on art and heritage, written several monographs and organized exhibitions.

Acknowledgements

Introducing the Collector
Nayanjot Lahiri

Introducing the Paintings
Kuldip Singh

Thanjavur and Mysuru: Political and Cultural Background
Anna L. Dallapiccola

Thanjavur Painting
Anna L. Dallapiccola

Epic and Puranic Narratives and Pan-Indian Icons
Anna L. Dallapiccola

Important Pilgrimage Sites
Anna L. Dallapiccola

Devotees, Philosophical Systems and Founders of New Creeds
Anna L. Dallapiccola

Yantras and Navagrahas
Anna L. Dallapiccola

Portraiture
Anna L. Dallapiccola

Mysuru Paintings
R.G. Singh

Conservation and Dating
     Parthasarathi
     Vishnu Panchaka
     Yamalarjuna Krishna
Kuldip Singh

From Puja Rooms to Drawing Rooms: Changing Forms of Patronage
Kuldip Singh

Contributors

Glossary

Bibliography

Introducing the Collector
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 10–13

Nayanjot Lahiri presents a brief insight into how Kuldip Singh built up the collection that forms the core of the volume, and examines what makes this collector and his assiduously assembled collection distinctive.

Introducing the Paintings
Singh, Kuldip
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 14–31

The chapter reviews and analyses Thanjavur paintings as subjects of worship, and attempts to understand the genre’s position as a bridge between "classical" aesthetics and 20th-century "calendar art". The chapter concludes with the study of printed images of gods and goddesses in the religious life of South India.

Thanjavur and Mysuru: Political and Cultural Background
Dallapiccola, Anna L.
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 32–45

With the fall of Vijayanagara city in 1565 the empire was split into small nayakdoms, one of the most important of which was Thanjavur. In 1673, the Marathas conquered Thanjavur and ruled until 1799, when Serfoji II had to surrender the administration to the British. Under his enlightened patronage Thanjavur became the cultural and artistic hub of southern India.

Mysuru was another state which emerged in 1578 after the fall of Vijayanagara. It was ruled by the Wodeyars and reached the zenith of its military power under the de facto rulers Haidar Ali (1722–82) and his son Tipu Sultan (1750–99). In 1799 Tipu Sultan was defeated by the British who then restored the throne to the Wodeyars. In 1831, Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar had to surrender the administration of the state to the British, and he devoted himself to making Mysuru a vibrant artistic and cultural centre.

Thanjavur Painting
Dallapiccola, Anna L.
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 46–61

From the 18th century up to the early decades of the 20th century, a very distinctive form of painting flourished in South India, especially in what are today the states of Tamil Nadu and part of Andhra Pradesh. New elements were elaborated, adapted and absorbed within the traditional artistic context in such a way as not to infringe upon the age-revered rules, especially as far as iconic paintings were concerned. The artists, however, were free to follow their own inspiration in the case of portraits, and other “secular” themes. The pictorial output of the artists patronized by the Marathas and other South Indian local rulers included murals, painting on wood, glass and paper. The painting traditions at Rajahmundry and Surapura are also briefly discussed here.

Epic and Puranic Narratives and Pan-Indian Icons
Dallapiccola, Anna L.
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 62–91

The Ramayana was a popular source of inspiration for Thanjavur artists; less frequent were visual retellings of the whole Mahabharata, in view of the complex structure of the narrative.In both Thanjavur and Mysuru schools of painting, the popularity of Krishna lore is testified by the numerous depictions of episodes from his life, especially as a child. The artists explored other Vaishnava themes such as the avataras, aspects of Vishnu worshipped in particular temples and the three Vaishava emblems: chakra, namam and shankha. The various forms of Shiva, the multifaceted personality of the Devi and lesser known local legends have inspired numerous works.

Important Pilgrimage Sites
Dallapiccola, Anna L.
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 92–113

The importance of place, sthala, is a well-known feature of Tamil culture. The association of determinate sites with specific deities and mythic events laid the ground for the later development of bhakti devotional poetry. From c. 14th century onwards, along with the hymns of the poet-saints, the narratives of the sthalapuranas (legends connected with specific sites/temples) became an important part of Tamil religious and literary culture. This efflorescence of sacred literature inspired the artists and the visual rendering of specific shrines and murtis became one of the main themes of South Indian painting.

Devotees, Philosophical Systems and Founders of New Creeds
Dallapiccola, Anna L.
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 114–131

The chapter focuses on religious personalities, such as the alvars and their Shaiva counterparts, the nayanmars, and the Vaishnava acharyas or teachers. Philosophers such as Adi Shankara, Raghavendraswamy, Allama Prabhu and the assembly of Virashaiva saints and mystics, Guru Nanak and the lineage of Sikh gurus are the subject of some of the paintings presented here.

Yantras and Navagrahas
Dallapiccola, Anna L.
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 132–133

A few intriguing paintings depict yantras, their geometric patterns interspersed with images of the deity evoked, its attributes and the pertinent mantra in various permutations. A work illustrates the nine planets, each duly identified by a caption.

Portraiture
Dallapiccola, Anna L.
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 134–141

The Thanjavur style is associated mainly with icon painting. The artists, however, explored a variety of themes, one being portraiture.The introduction of photography brought into paintings the formal setting of a photographic studio, with its chairs, three-legged table on which either a book or a vase of flowers was artistically placed, with the occasional billowing curtain backdrop. Apart from royalty, their family and courtiers, some wealthy individuals also commissioned portraits.

Mysuru Paintings
Singh, R.G.
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 142–159

Artist families fleeing war-torn Vijayanagara found royal patronage at the court of Raja Wodeyar (r. 1578–1617) in Mysuru. The genre of paintings flourished under the rule of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, with several paintings portraying the king in his darbar. The most ubiquitous painting in this school is Sri Chamundeshvari Devi slaying Mahishasura, testifying to the popularity of Devi worship in the region.

Conservation and Dating
Singh, Kuldip
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 160–169

A conservation protocol based on internationally accepted standards was specifically devised to meet the special needs of the Thanjavur paintings in the Kuldip Singh collection. All the interventions had to be reversible, permitting changes in future if required. About 100 paintings could be dated based on detailed examination of their wasli. Three case studies have been presented here to illustrate the details of the conservation protocol.

From Puja Rooms to Drawing Rooms: Changing Forms of Patronage
Singh, Kuldip
Vol. 69 No. 4, June 2018; ISBN: 978-93-83243-24-2, pp. 170–174

Thanjavur art flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries but lost its status to the lithographic print around the beginning of the 20th century. The genre enjoyed a revival in the post-independence era, and thrives as a popular art mode today, solely with the commercial support of a flourishing art market. The chapter reviews historical and contemporary patronage to highlight the changing character of Thanjavur art. The role of bhajan mathas and Rama mandiras in the preservation of the genre has also been examined.