This lavishly illustrated book traces the evolution of printing oleographs (display prints) in India, beginning with the establishment of the Ravi Varma Fine Arts Lithographic Press in Mumbai at the end of the nineteenth century. The authors assemble a large number of popular Indian prints from their rare and extensive collection, the only one of its kind available for this period.
Raja Ravi Varma Koil Tampuran (1848-1906), and aristocrat from Travancore by birth and a renowned artist, almost single-handedly created a revolution in modern Indian aesthetics with the establishment of the Ravi Varma Press. His paintings of gods and goddesses, epic heroes and heroines, virtually defined the new pan-Indian iconography. Using German printers and high-speed steam driven presses. Ravi Varma published millions of copies of these famous paintings as well as other religious icons. The pictures were also used to advertise goods and services, as indeed, for political propaganda, where heroes, gods, and national leaders merged into each other. The prints became the most influential medium of visual communication in what was then a socially and culturally fragmented Indian society.
Art historians of the early twentieth century discarded this oleographic 'art' as another school of hybrid kitsch which made a travesty of Indian aesthetic and spiritual values. This of course did not affect its popularity, since it had given Indian mythology a form that had become entrenched in the nation's subconscious. Today, 'calendar art', subconscious. Today, 'calendar-art' 'filmi' advertisements, and political propaganda, bedeck the urban Indian landscape - all a result of the Industrialization of the Indian Image.
Sociologists and art historians have only recently begun to take a new look at the origins of this popular medium, against the backdrop of the use of this art by political parties for canvassing votes, as well as the film industry.
About the Author:
Erwin Neumayer is an archaeologist working on the prehistoric art of South Asia on which he has written several books.
Christine Schelberger is an artist; she teaches art and art history in Vienna.
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