The conservation team will bring centuries-old exquisite craftsmanship regains its original glory
By A. Ganesh
A small tear in the canvas, a white spot in a crimson red paint, some lime splatter, dust damage and fungal growth or cracks in the paint due to increased humidity. These are some of the factors that constantly attack works of art and eat away at their aesthetic value.
Mysore Palace and its surrounding temples are a treasure trove of paintings and efforts are being made to protect these tangible pieces of history and culture. From centuries-old oil paintings, stained glass windows, frescoes, to paintings of gods and goddesses, the exquisite works of art are in a deplorable state.
The restoration work was taken over by the National Research Laboratory for the Conservation (NRLC) of Cultural Properties, Lucknow, which entrusted the work to its Regional Conservation Laboratory in Mysuru. The Department of Archeology and Museums initiated the conservation works.
Conservation depends on the extent of the deterioration and the time it will take to correct it. Some of the aspects of conservation include recreating, stretching and unstretching canvases, mending, lining, consolidating peeling paint, and retouching.
At present, conservation and restoration works are underway at the Varahaswamy and Ambujavalli Mahalakshmi temples in the Mysore Palace campus. The temples were originally built by the Hoysalas in Srirangapatna and the original idols were brought and installed in the palace temples in 1811 by Chikkadevaraja Wadiyar.
Later, during the reign of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, Dewan Poornaiah embellished the interiors of temples with Ramayana and Mahabharata paintings. However, these attractive oil paintings and murals have not been properly maintained and over the years have lost their glory.
Lack of maintenance
Sufficient care is taken to ensure that faulty restoration and painting does not occur in the name of conservation. These precious collections are restored by a specially trained conservation team where the original paintings are touched up using scientific conservation techniques.
These rare paintings were damaged during earlier restoration works of the temples. Besides the conservation of the original materials, the team also undertakes the restoration of works that require plasters, colors or coatings to reconstitute a missing component of the art – the amalgamation of chemistry and the arts.
“This process is tedious and an art form in itself. We are seeing variations in damage that fall into two categories – structural or aesthetic,” Biyas Ghosh, Senior Conservator, told Star of Mysore. Other members of the team are Senior Assistant Curator Nithin Morya, Suresh Dixit and SV Sahana.
Natural colors have faded now
“Many natural colors were used on the temple walls, ceiling, pillars and wooden cabinets. Due to absolute lack of maintenance, these colors have faded and also chipped off the original parts. First we clean the surroundings of the artwork, then coat the chips with paint so that they do not fall off. Later, the gaps are filled in to recreate the artwork,” explained Biyas Ghosh.
Some paintings are infested with fungus. The oil used in the paints has peeled off or peeled off and there are lime deposits on the canvas as well. Artworks would first be documented by recording their physical and chemical properties. Compatible materials are used so as not to spoil the original.
Many paintings had suffered damage due to the large number of visitors touching the paintings. Also, damage has been caused due to water leaks, high moisture content and extensive use of incense sticks, dhoop and also camphor inside the temples for rituals .
“We have searched for the original archives of the temple paintings from the Mysore Palace Board and also from the palace library. If we get our hands on the archives, it will help us maintain the originality of preservation efforts. These paintings are over 200 years old and efforts are underway to preserve them carefully,” said Biyas Ghosh.
Typically, it takes two to three weeks to restore a painting. However, this time frame may vary depending on the condition of an artwork, the extent of damage, and the size of the painting. A large painting with significant damage might take longer. The whole process is labor intensive and requires skilled hands, Ghosh added.