DATTATREYA OLEOGRAPH – RAJA RAVI VARMA
This beautiful Oleograph of Lord Dattatreya is of one of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. It was Raja Ravi Varma who started painting Hindu deities with appropriate bodies, features and ornaments. Dattatreya is considered to be one of the lords of yoga and a combined avatar of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He is one of the most ancient deities. He is typically depicted as a monk with three heads – one for each of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, six hands with each pair of hands holding a pair of objects associated with the trinity. He is also shown with dogs or a cow. His dressed as a monk is symbolic of detachment of worldly objects and being a yogi. Dattatreya is also believed to be the author of ‘Tripura Rahasya’ – a book on Advaita Vedanta which was given to Parashurama.
Oleography or Chromolithography is a unique technique used for making colour prints. This particular technique evolved from Lithography – which is basically a method of printing using a stone.
The method of Oleography uses multiple stones - a separate stone for each colour and included printing one colour over another. It was widely used for commercial purposes and was the most popular method for colour printing till the end of the 19th century. Oleo in Latin means Oil. This technique used oil that gave the prints better quality. It is a chemical process based on rejection of oil by water. Depending on the number of colours present in the picture, skilled workers took months to complete a single Oleograph. In the 19th century, Oleographs became so popular in the United States that the Era was named as ‘Chromo Civilisation’. They were widely used everywhere – children’s books, advertising art, posters, labels etc.
While Oleographs started losing their popularity by the end of the 19th century in the West, they started becoming popular in India. This can be completely attributed to India’s first modern artist, Raja Ravi Varma. To make Oleographs of his paintings in large number so as to make them accessible to the common people as well, he opened a press in Mumbai – The Ravi Varma Lithographic Press. The first picture printed at Ravi Varma’s press was the ‘The birth of Shakuntala’. This press produced a large number of Oleographs of Raja Ravi Varma’s most famous paintings, before being sold to his German printing technician.
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