unsigned, 18th century
Tale of Genji
a pair of six-panel screens depicting twelve selected chapters from the epic novel, Genji Monogatari (lit. The Tale of the 'Shining Prince'); 18th century, ink, color, gofun, and gold leaf on paper
each screen approximately: 42 3/4 by 108 5/8 in., 108.5 by 276 cm
Six episodes of Prince Genji's life are depicted on each screen, illustrating twelve in all. Each scene is rendered in rich color and fine detail with its chapter identified in black kana script and separated from each other by stylized clouds embellished with raised geometric pattern made with gofun and covered with gold leaf. As we read the screens from left to right in a zig-zag pattern starting on the bottom, we begin appropriately with chapter 1, Kiritsubo (The Paulownia Court). Usually Japanese screens are read right to left, however, with this pair of screens the chapters seem to progress from left to right. Here we see Lady Kiritsubo who has recently given birth to Genji. Genji is so magnificent he rivals the emperor's eldest son for the title of crown prince, and becomes known as 'the shining prince'. Genji is depicted here in the arms of his mother's nursemaid. Kiritsubo herself is seen to the left in elaborate junihito-e (twelve-layered) robes with a kiri (paulownia leaf) design.
As we look above to the next scene, chapter 2, Hahakigi (The Broom Tree), Genji and his close friend, To-no-Chujo (Genji's brother-in-law), and two guard officers are seen comparing stories of their various amorous affairs and romantic experiences as the footmen outside are humorously depicted asleep. As we look to the right, chapter 5, Wakamurasaki (Lavender), we see Genji hiding behind gold patterned clouds and trees as he surreptitiously gazes at the beautiful young Murasaki (who is only ten years old). Genji is overcome with Murasaki's beauty and later seeks to adopt the child. Below in chapter 7, Momijinoga (An Autumn Excursion), Heian period ideals of courtly elegance are depicted in this finely painted scene. Genji and To-no-Chujo perform a bugaku dance titled 'The Waves of the Blue Sea' on a raised platform. The woman seated on the left veranda may be Fujitsubo, the favored consort of the Emperor (Genji's father), who in this chapter is pregnant with Genji's child.
On the upper right hand corner, chapter 6, Suetsumuhana (The Safflower) we see Genji peeping from behind a fence and gnarled plum tree at a certain orphaned princess who is reputed to be an excellent koto player. While a proper aristocratic lady never allowed herself to be seen by the opposite sex, here the kaimami ('a view through the fence') narrative device allows us a view without being disrespectful. Genji is impressed by the princess' musical ability, but not by her looks. In fact, this chapter bears its name from the princess' red-tipped nose, which he likens to a safflower. In the last chapter depicted on this screen, chapter 4, Genji is seen admiring beautiful flowers called yugao or 'evening faces', the title of the chapter. At the same time a young girl emerges with a scented white fan to give to Genji. Genji is aroused by the possibility that other 'hidden delights' reside in the house.
Miyeko Murase, The Tale of Genji: Legends and Paintings, 2001
Delicate Divide: The Art of the Japanese Screen, Scholten Japanese Art, New York, March 2001, cat. no. 8
second screen > >
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site last updated
April 2, 2020
Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
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