[Home] [About] [Events] [Gallery] [Tale of Genji] [Contact] [Feedback]

[Albums] [Folding Screens] [Hand Scrolls] [Hanging Scrolls] 

 

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.

Chapter three is titled Utsusemi, for the young woman with whom Prince Genji has fallen in love. He is spying on her as she plays go with her companions. Later, Genji will slip into her room, but Utsusemi will escape his advances and Genji will make love to her companion instead.

Yugao, the title of chapter four and the name of the mysterious woman Genji pursues in this chapter, means "evening face," the type of flower seen growing over the fence in this scene. It was these flowers that first attracted Genji to this residence and to the woman who inhabits it. The scene depicts Genji's servant asking one of Yugao's attendants about the flowers and the occupants of the house. These flowers blossom only in the evening, much like Genji's clandestine affair with Yugao. Because of his position at court and his official marriage to the daughter of a high placed court minister, Genji's relationship with Yugao is fraught with difficulty. During one of their liaisons, the vengeful spirit of Lady Rokujô, another of Genji's mistresses, possesses and kills Yugao.

This scene from the fifth chapter, titled Waka Murasaki (Young Murasaki), depicts Genji's initial attraction to Murasaki, who will eventually become his truest love. He watches from behind a brushwood fence as she expresses her anger because one of her companions has released her pet sparrow. At this time, Murasaki is barely ten years old, but Genji finds her bright and precocious character too endearing to resist. Later in the story, he becomes her guardian and then takes her as his mistress when she reaches adolescence. The flowering cherry trees indicate that the scene takes place in spring, but they also symbolize the blossoming of new love.

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

[Home] [About] [Events] [Gallery] [Tale of Genji] [Contact] [Feedback] 

[Albums] [Folding Screens] [Hand Scrolls] [Hanging Scrolls] 

Copyright (c) 2000, Mayumi Ishida, All Rights Reserved Last Updated: April 11, 2000