The materials Used In Ajanta Cave Paintings

In this segment, I am about to discuss the materials used in Ajanta cave paintings concurrently, my endeavor will help you to light up the philosophy behind such masterpieces. I’ll also try to show how the specialties of Ajanta art had been conveying the traditional impact in Indian as well as oriental art respectively in several eras by dispersing its charm intravenously in artist's blood.

In my previous write up, I stated that the paintings of Jogimara cave as the first cave painting in historical era recognized by historians; however, in those paintings we found colors as Red, Black, and white used primarily. The color red, they found from the stone dust, white came from the soil accumulated and formed from limestone and finally, black, they produced from the fruit named myrobalan.  In few cases, the black color they arranged from a kind of nitre that previously mixed with iron dust and they remixed this element with myrobalan fruit. It produced a highest quality black color. However, we attempted to disclose the materials used in Ajanta painting, not Jogimara cave; therefore, here I would like to revert to the Ajanta cave painting again.

A Buddhist mendicant in Ajanta cave

There are numerous controversies related to the process and materials of Ajanta painting, however, it is difficult to point out the specific outlines about painting process and materials. The notions of some experts were all are the real Italian fresco (Fresco Buono) whereas, a few of them proclaimed that it is not the pure fresco, rather it’s an outcome of fresco and tempera. Probably in Italian term, it is, “Fresco A Secco”. Disgruntling the above opinions, some other experts concluded that all were made in tempera. It is established that the quality and technique of Ajanta fresco is very similar to Italian standard, however, in some places, the layer of fresco is too thin and gently polished. Observing such surface, most of the experts determined, the painting used in tempera technique and it was a kind of dry fresco. Probably the determination is right since we already have seen that in some places, the rind layer of the color has burned out and has raised the shell of color.

They normally prepared the first layer with the soil, cow dung, and sand that came from stone dust. Before making the layer, they did the cave wall chapped to sustain the layer on the wall. Sometimes they even used the husks of corn as the material of the layer. After drying out the first surface, they made the second layer. It was white in color and thin as an eggshell. They gently polished this white surface to make it smoother. I don’t know about the material of white surface they used, however, in my experience; it might be the dust of conch shell. According to the statement of experts, the paintings of Ajanta caves had been running for several centuries, simultaneously, the techniques also changed in several times, in several caves. Finally it is clear, the technique of surface making in Ajanta based on fresco buono, fresco-A-secco or tempera. 

 A mind blowing demonstration of selected Ajanta cave paintings 

The above discourse was about the surface making techniques of Ajanta paintings. Now we have to find out the painting process. The statement of lady Herring Hum was, after completing the surface; artist drew a red outline explicitly on the aboveground. Here I would like to say that such starting process of a painting is a very common Indian traditional thought of folk art that has been running for an unidentified time. Still, it’s seen in the rural area of Bengal where the inhabitant artists (Patua) teach his son or daughter how to draw a cow or flower by using a freehand line with brush on the mud wall of his own hut. I too have seen it in several times while visited those rural places.  

Dr. Griffiths just brushed aside this concept of the outline drawing in red color, however, he confessed that only the line drawing revved up all the tension, impulses, power, and artistic wisdom in Ajanta painting. After finishing the line drawing, a soil diluted transparent green color they overlapped on the total object. Probably it was “Terra Verde” green. Previously drawn inlaid red outlines revealed out from the overlaid transparent green. Then artists started work with several colors wheresoever necessary. Finally, they did prominent the line drawing in black color on the outer side of the red outlines. They even used a small amount of shadings indistinctly that was not the instantaneously related to light and shade, rather it’s a yield of making the color fade and deep. With the absolute expertness, the contrary colors they used in some places to bring out the modeling and a sense of depth. Such process had been used in Pompeii and Crete Island.  



It is out of the knowledge of historians and experts, which kind of brushes, had been used in that era, however, it has distinguished which colors they used in paintings. The colors in the palate of buon fresco artists were limited since it was necessary to retain the color identical after diluting it with lime water. On the other hand, Tempera artists had the huge possibilities in color, therefore, they could use the colors like pink, light green, purple and so forth. Because in the process of tempera, it is not necessary to become together with color and lime water. The color green, they got from the sand, mixed with iron dust, the saffron and red they prepared from the red iron-stone dust, white came from lime, blue, they arranged from Lapis lazuli, yellow born from myrobalan fruit.

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Last updated on - 25.09.2023