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