Harunobu woodblock print

Suzuki Harunobu, (ca. 1724-70)


from an untitled series depicting the five cardinal virtues, Lady Murasaki (the author of The Tale of Genji) seated at a table with a suzuribako (writing box) on a verandah overlooking the moonlit Lake Biwa; signed Harunobu ga, the title at the upper right, Shin, followed by an instructional poem, ca. 1765

chuban tate-e 11 1/8 by 8 3/8 in., 28.4 by 21.2 cm

According to legend, Lady Murasaki was instructed to write a novel by the Princess Senshi (964-1035) of the Imperial court. Murasaki secluded herself at the Ishiyama-dera of Kyoto and prayed to Nyoirin Kannon for seven days seeking inspiration for the epic work, Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji).

The poem in the cartouche reads:

hi o shirite
zen o michibiku kokoro koso
makoto no shin to yu-bekari keri

To be aware of benevolence and
to lead the way toward goodness:
this is true fidelity

For translation and comparison with a slightly later impression in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, see Gentles, p. 70, no. 111 (black & white illustration), also illustrated in color in Chiba City catalogue, p. 168, no. 169. The AIC version has a variant palette: the wood verandah is rendered in orange rather than pale yellow and pink, the hill beneath is yellow (not green), the purple on Murasaki's robe is about the same color, as is the color of the water. The breaks in the keyblock at the top right edge of the cartouche indicate a later date.

Margaret Gentles, The Clarence Buckingham Collection, Volume II, Art Institute of Chicago, 1965, p. 70, no. 111 (black & white photo)
Suzuki Harunobu, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2002, p. 168, no. 169
Miyako Murase, Emaki: Narrative Scrolls from Japan, The Asia Society, 1983, p. 158 (on Murasaki and the Ishiyama-dera)


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