top of page

The materials used in Ajanta cave painting

In this segment, I am about to discuss the materials used in Ajanta cave paintings, and 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 and oriental art, respectively, in several eras by dispersing its charm intravenously in the artist's blood.

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

Ajanta Cave 19 facade
Ajanta Cave 19 facade

There have been many debates surrounding the Ajanta painting process and materials. It can be challenging to define the exact process and materials used clearly. Experts claim that the paintings are genuine Italian frescoes (Fresco Buono). In contrast, others argue that they are a mixture of fresco and tempera, also known as "Fresco A Secco" in Italian terms.

Despite the differing opinions stated earlier, some experts have concluded that all paintings were made using tempera. It has been established that the quality and techniques of the Ajanta frescoes are similar to Italian standards. However, the fresco layer is too thin and gently polished in some areas. Based on such observations, most experts have determined that the paintings were created using a tempera technique, a type of dry fresco. This determination is likely correct, as in some areas, the outer layer of color has burned out and raised the shell of colors.

Ajanta cave painting
Ajanta cave painting

They typically prepared the first layer with soil, cow dung, and sand from stone dust. Before making the layer, they did the cave wall to sustain the coating 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 and thin as an eggshell. They gently polished this white surface to make it smoother. I don't know about the material of the white surface they used; however, in my experience, it might be the dust of conch shells since I noticed such uses in some ancient palaces in India. According to experts, the paintings of Ajanta caves had been running for several centuries; simultaneously, the techniques also changed several times in different caves. Finally, it is clear that the method of surface making in Ajanta is based on fresco buono, fresco-A-secco, or tempera.

As discussed earlier, the Ajanta murals utilized specific techniques to create their surfaces. Now, it's essential to delve into their painting process. Lady Herring Hum explained that the artist would draw a red outline once the surface was complete. This traditional process of Indian folk art has been passed down for generations. Even today, in rural areas of Bengal, Patuas, the local artists teach their children to draw animals and flowers using freehand lines and brushes on the mud walls of their huts. I have witnessed this several times during my visits to these rural areas and have been charmed by their innocent smiles and detachment from material possessions.

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's painting. After finishing the line drawing, a soil-diluted transparent green color overlapped on the total object. It was probably the green color identified as -17 "Terra Verde." Previously drawn inlaid red outlines are revealed from the overlaid transparent green. Then, artists started work with several colors whenever necessary. Finally, they prominently draw the line in black on the outer side of the red outlines. They even used a few shadings indistinctly that were not instantaneously related to light and shade; instead, it's a yield of making the color fade deep. With absolute knowledge, they used the opposite colors in some places to bring out the modeling and a sense of depth. Such a process was also used in Pompeii and Crete Island.

Ajanta Cave Painting
Ajanta Cave Painting

It is still being determined by historians and experts what kind of brushes were used in that era. However, it has distinguished which colors they used in paintings. The colors in the palate of buono fresco artists were limited since retaining the color identical after diluting it with lime water was necessary. On the other hand, Tempera artists had huge possibilities in color. Therefore, they could use colors like pink, light green, purple, etc., because combining color and lime water is unnecessary during the tempera process. 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.

The above information amazed us as we considered their selection of materials and related efforts to complete their masterpieces. As an artist, it also inspires me to make efforts within my limited ability.

What's in your mind? Feel free to share your opinion below. Thank you.

Image Resource - Ajanta Cave 19 Facade

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page