AN IMPORTANT JAPANESE SIX-FOLD SCREEN, DEPICTING EPISODES FROM THE TALE OF GENJI
Edo period, 17th century
Ink and colour on gilded paper (restorations and wear)
H. 155 x W. 380 cm
The Tale of Genji was a popular subject for narrative illustration throughout the history of Japanese painting. Written around the year 1000 by a court lady known as Lady Murasaki, the novel traces the life and loves of the incomparable Prince Genji, and two generations of his descendants, in a highly evocative literary style.
The screen illustrates three episodes from the novel. Top left from the chapter “Channel Buoys” where Genji makes an excursion to the Naniwa area and the boat of the daughter of the monk of the Akashi sanctuary and one of Genji’s loves, enters the Bay of Naniwa. Genji writes a short note “Firm the bond that brings us to Naniwa, whose channel buoys invite me to throw myself in”. It is taken by a messenger to her. She weeps tears of joy and replies with a note “A lowly one whose place is not to demand, to what purpose, at Naniwa, should I cast myself in?”
In the middle of the screen is illustrated an episode from the chapter “A Picture Contest” where the former high priestess of Ise is about to be presented at court. The emperor sends her gifts: comb boxes, vanity chests, incense coffers and incense.
To the right is an episode where the son of Genji’s best friend, Kashiwagi and his three younger brothers play football. They all wear caps of state. The Third Princess, Genji’s very young wife, is inside the house behind the curtains but when a small cat comes running out the curtain is pulled out to reveal the Third Princess behind it. Kashiwagi has a glimpse of her and instantly falls madly in love with her.