Ruins located in Sigiriya
Protected in a small, sheltered depression a hundred meters above ground, the frescoes were an integral part of the overall awe-inspiring sight and were part of a huge tapestry that extended in a gigantic band around the waist of the rock. This immense picture gallery of over 500 semi-naked females covered an area of approximately 5600 sq meters.
Over the years most of the frescoes were lost due to environmental factors such as wind and rain as well as being intentionally removed due to human intervention, only nineteen paintings survive today.
Some say they are celestial nymphs carrying flowers to shower upon kings and mortals below. Others suggest that they are queens and concubines. Some even suggest that they are the manifestations of the goddess Tara. They have been the subject of speculation for nearly one thousand six hundred years.
The names of the ladies and the artists who painted them are lost to history. Their legacy has survived for over half a million days, a testament to the genius of their creators and the king who commissioned them.
WHO ARE THE WOMEN IN THE SIGIRIYA FRESCOES?
The rich adornments, sophisticated clothing, lifelike appearance, vibrant use of colour support the view that the artist drew his inspiration from the ladies of King Kasyapa's court — his harem. The most telling validation of this view is that they all wear a delicate three-circled tattoo around their necks.
The prominent display of this tattoo, was meant to clearly identify these ladies as belonging to the king. They were to be admired but not touched. For this reason, they were depicted in true form, voluptuous and desirable. They were intended to project the opulence and grandeur of Kasyapa the all-powerful god-king.
WHAT ARTISTIC STYLE IS USED?
These paintings offer a rare glimpse of ancient Sinhala art at its zenith. They are the only open display of female sensuality depicted in Sri Lankan art.
The technique used in these paintings is called "fresco lustro". It varies slightly from the pure fresco technique in that it also contains a mild binding agent or glue. This gives the painting added durability, as clearly demonstrated by the fact that they have survived, exposed to the elements, for over 1,600 years.
Each fresco was painted on a wet plaster surface consisting of two or sometimes three distinct layers. The first layer was clay plaster. The second, was a clay-lime plaster. The topmost layer was a very fine lime plaster. Only red, yellow, green, and black pigments were used. The red, yellow and green colours were extracted from earth-minerals. The black pigment was charcoal black. These pigments were used because they were resistant to the alkalinity of wet plaster and were impervious to sunlight which would have quickly faded vegetable dyes.
Each day the chief artist drew an outline of each fresco, on fresh wet plaster, with a fine brush dipped in red paint. These outlines were then painted in with layer upon layer of paint until the desired richness of colour was attained. It was at this time that the final and most important aspect of the painting was undertaken. Only the chief artist was entrusted with this delicate ritual. It was he who breathed life into the painting by performing the final and most important detail to be painted.