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Artist Unknown
Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji)
About mid-18th century
Color on paper

This hand scroll depicts the first sixteen chapters of the Tale of Genji, a fifty-four chapter epic novel written by Murasaki Shikubu (about 973-1030). The story follows the life and loves of Prince Genji, the son of the emperor and his favorite concubine, Kiritsubo. Although fictional, the Tale of Genji is taken to be an accurate representation of aristocratic life in the middle of the Heian period (794-1195).

The oldest surviving Tale of Genji hand scrolls were painted in the late Heian period. Generations of court appointed painters, mostly from the Tosa family, kept the tradition of Tale of Genji painting alive. By the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868) when this work was completed, most literate people knew the narrative well. Artists continued to produce Genji hand scrolls in the colorful and highly decorative yamato-e style of the Heian-period originals.

Art historians often refer to Tale of Genji hand scrolls as "monoscenic narratives." A short section of text and an illustration represents each chapter of the tale. Although variations appeared from time to time, in general, the selection of text-image combinations was fairly standard. The three sections displayed here are from the third, fourth and fifth chapters.

Hood Museum of Art, Gift of George Herman, Class of 1941; P.993.48

 

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Last Updated: April 20, 2000