Tanjore painting is a major form of classical South Indian painting from the town of Thanjavur (anglicized as Tanjore) in Tamil Nadu, India. The art form dates back to about 1600 AD, a period when the Nayakas of Thanjavur encouraged art—chiefly, classical dance and music—as well as literature, both in Telugu and Tamil. Tanjore paintings are known for their surface richness, vivid colours, compact composition and especially the glittering gold foils used to give the paintings their rich look. Essentially serving as devotional icons, the subjects of most paintings are Hindu gods, goddesses, and saints. Episodes from Hindu tradition are drawn upon as elaborations of the main figure or figures placed in the central section of the picture.
Making a Tanjore painting involves many stages. First the artist makes a preliminary sketch of the image on the base, which is a piece of cloth pasted onto wood. Then chalk powder or zinc oxide is mixed with water-soluble adhesive and applied on the base. Sometimes a mild abrasive is used to make the base smoother. After the drawing is made, the jewellery and apparel in the image are decorated with semi-precious stones known as Jaipur stones. Lace or thread is also used to decorate the jewellery. A mixture called "muk" is prepared using chalk powder and Arabian gum in a ratio of 2:1. The muk is applied in places around the stones and other areas to give an embossed look. Gold foil is pasted on top of this. Finally, Herbal colours are used to add colour to the figures in the paintings.
High-quality gold foil is used to ensure that the paintings last generations. Paintings come in three finishes: classic, antique style and embossed. In the classic finish, bold colours and striking backgrounds are combined with high-glitter gold foil, while in the antique style, the gold's glitter is more sober, with more subtle colours and plain backgrounds. The embossed paintings are similar to the classic style but are embossed to give greater depth.