An Auspicious Start
It was in August 2018 that Ganesh Shivaswamy commenced writing a book on the legacy of the Ravi Varma Press and the first fact finding trip was in December to Kilimanoor, the birth place of the celebrated artist. Wondering if this would be a worthy project, Ganesh, accompanied by Rama Varma Thampuran of the Kilimanoor Palace walked towards a temple dedicated to Sastha. The temple, with a unique Ayyapan in a standing posture has the horse as his vahan. The horse is also the insignia of the Kilimanoor Palace as designed by Ravi Varma himself. As they approached the temple, a beam of sunlight peered through the gateway as if to welcome them. Believing this to be an auspicious sign, the project began.
A New Perspective
Was there anything new to be stated?
Ravi Varma had extensively been written about, with the earliest literature in this field going back to an undated anonymously written biography in Malayalam dating to c.1895. Many students, aficionados, scholars and academicians had documented various aspects of his life.
Several visits were made to the Kilimanoor Palace and Ravi Varma’s reference books were diligently scanned. The revelation came when a wooden box was discovered – containing the reference materials relied on by the artist. Unattended to for decades, it contained a treasure of photographs, books and negatives which were once handled by Ravi Varma himself. Having finally arrived at the source of the new narrative, it was followed by a race to access images from museum displays and storerooms, governmental, institutional and personal archives, personal collections, etc. Mining these and conversations with a range of people, the book series took shape.
A journey as beautiful as the destination
Ganesh V. Shivaswamy
A lawyer by profession, he started collecting the chromolithographs from the Ravi Varma Press at the age of thirteen. Now, it is considered one of the most comprehensive collections of prints from the Press. His extensive research on the legacy of the artist and the Press find their way into the six volume series.
Critical Collective is an initiative by art curator and critic Gayatri Sinha. It works towards building knowledge in the arts in India. Editing and proofreading of the series was undertaken by a team consisting of Gayatri Sinha, Mrinalini Vasudevan and Namrata Ghosh.
VOLO is an architecture and design firm with offices in India and Sri Lanka. Headed by Ashwath Naroth and Alessio Comalli, VOLO designed the cover and layout of the book series.
Apparao Galleries is a leading Indian gallery with branches in Chennai and New Delhi. Founded in 1983 by Sharan Apparao, the gallery has built a strong reputation for representing an exceptional range of modern and contemporary Indian artists. The Apparao Galleries sponsored the editing and designing of the book series.
About the Series
The books in the series, Raja Ravi Varma: An Everlasting Imprint, explore the democratization of art in India through the country’s foremost modern artist and the Ravi Varma Press. The first volume looks at the life and times of Raja Ravi Varma and how he created images which found widespread acceptance and appreciation among common men and women. The second volume describes the setting up of the Ravi Varma Press and the transformative effects of its visual legacy. The remaining volumes look at specific themes depicted in the works of the artist and the Press. The third volume explores visuals and iconography of the divine, while the fourth volume deals with the epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The fifth volume discusses images from the Shrimad Bhagavatam, classical dramas and other Hindu texts, while the sixth and concluding volume turns to imagery of power and the allure of the feminine.
As may be observed, Ravi Varma is the central point in this narrative. Although instrumental in popularizing fine art and prints in India, he was not the only person working in this field. Biographies, hitherto, have mainly focused his life and contributions; but this series also studies the role of the many others who participated in this movement. His relatives, tutors, mentors, models, and societal and cultural influences are brought in. The functioning of the Ravi Varma Press is another focus of attention—it is intriguing to note that the establishment was at no point in time ever owned by Raja Ravi Varma, even though it was named after him. Those who carried forward the baton, borrowing and keeping alive the artist’s style and icons in the world of cinema, theatre, fashion, design and fine art, are all documented. Along with the creators of this kind of art, the books also consider the opinions shared by viewers. After all, any amount of public fame and recognition entailed adulation and praise but also criticism, disapproval and evaluation, all of which are covered and lend value to these books.
Volume 1: The Shaping of the Artist
This volume consists of two chapters. The first chapter deals with the biography of Raja Ravi Varma and the second chapter explores the various aspects which influenced his style.
Number of pages: 352; White Falcon Publishing, 1 Edition (2023); ISBN-13: 9781636408460; Product Dimensions: 8.27 x 1 x 11.69 Inches
This volume consists of two chapters. The first chapter deals with the history of the Ravi Varma Press and the second chapter explores the influence of the prints on various aspects life like religion, law and policy, advertising and commerce, etc. Particularly important are two appendices containing price-lists from dealers which catalogue the prints from the Press.
This volume consists of six chapters and explores the images intended for worship. The first chapter introduces the concept of darshan murtis with a focus on popular art. The second chapter deals with devis, the third devathas and the fourth other Hindu prayer themes. The fifth chapter documents prints of saints and pontiffs while the sixth chapter deals with images pertaining to the Islamic and Christian faith.
This volume consists of two chapters. The first chapter deals with images inspired by the Ramayana while the second chapter explores the images from the Mahabharata.
This volume consists of three chapters. The first chapter deals with images from the Shrimad Bhagavatam which include incidents relating to the Mohini avatar, the life of Lord Krishna, etc. The second chapter deals with other Hindu themes like the Gita Govinda, Vamana Purana, Narada Purana and Shuka-Rambha Samvaad. The third chapter explores images from classical dramas and plays like those by Kalidasa, Bhavabuti, Sudraka and Harsha.
This volume consists of three chapters. The first chapter deals with images of people of power: Kings, Emperors, Maharajas, etc while the second chapter explores the images of women. The third and concluding chapter of the series contain miscellaneous images from the Ravi Varma Press.