The Tale of Genji

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Artist Unknown

The Tale of Genji, early 17th century

Pair of six-panel screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper
166 x 371 cm each
Gift of Robert Allerton in honor of Mr. & Mrs. William McCormick Blair's fiftieth wedding anniversary, 1962.574-1962.575




This pair of folding screens depicts a few favorite moments from the 11th-century Tale of Genji, written by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu. Though they take place at disparate times in the story, the five episodes selected from the novel’s fifty-four chapters are set in one continuous landscape. Among these scenes is one on the far right showing the baby Genji being presented to his father, the emperor, for the first time. Across the bottom of left screen, court ladies argue which season is the most beautiful. Above, in the upper right corner, Genji and his love, Lady Murasaki, share an intimate moment in front of a charcoal brazier.

Each scene was seemingly chosen for its felicitous overtones. The overall character of the pair suggest that they were painted to be part of a bride’s wedding trousseau, and would therefore accompany her to her new home. Lavishly decorated folding screens made up an important part of such collections, which included kimono, lacquer toiletry sets, games, and other luxury items.

The figural style and landscape are reminiscent of the Kano school of painters. Tale of Genji screens attributed to artists of this school are the earliest-known screens to depict the story.

Rotation 1: June 26-August 9, 2009