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Nine Scenes from The Tale of Genji

Studio of Tawaraya Sōtatsu (Japanese, died ca. 1640)

Period:
Edo period (1615–1868)
Date:
early 17th century
Culture:
Japan
Medium:
Eight-panel folding screen; ink and color on gilt paper
Dimensions:
31 7/8 x 128 3/4 in. (81 x 327 cm)
Classification:
Screens
Credit Line:
Property of Mary Griggs Burke
  • Description

    Tawaraya Sōtatsu is retroactively revered as one of the founders of the Rinpa school. Known for their images of nature, painters of his studio also carried out commissions based on themes drawn from Japanese classical literature. This screen, featuring nine scenes from the eleventh-century novel The Tale of Genji, exhibits a free use of Heian-period yamato-e (Japanese painting) pictorial conventions, as seen, for instance, in the exaggeratedly rounded hills and the stylized pine trees and other landscape elements. The landscapes and figures display a subtle use of the mottled ink (tarashikomi) technique associated with Sŏtatsu and his followers. This screen originally might have been one of a set of six that illustrated all fifty-four chapters of the renowned tale of Heian court life and intrigue.

    Panel 1 (far right)
    Chapter 19: “Wisps of Cloud” (Usugumo). Genji has withdrawn to a chapel, where he weeps over the death of his first love, Fujitsubo, his father’s favored consort.

    Panel 2
    Chapter 20: “The Morning Glory” (Asagao). On a snowy evening Genji and Murasaki, his second wife and greatest love, reminisce about the past, while Murasaki frets that Genji no longer loves her. He has the young maidservants make a snowman to dispel her gloom.

    Panel 3
    Chapter 21: “The Maidens” (Otome). Yūguri, Genji’s first son and primary heir, calls on Kumoinokari, the daughter of Genji’s friend and rival in love, Tō-no-Chūjō. Kumoinokari will later become Yūgiri’s wife, against the wishes of her father.

    Panel 4
    Chapter 22: “The Tendril Wreath” (Tamakazura). Tamakazura, now back in the capital after being raised in Kyushu, makes a pilgrimage to Hatsuse Temple. In a remarkable coincidence she meets her former nurse, Ukon, who brings her to live in Genji’s care.

    Panel 5
    Chapter 23: “The Warbler’s First Song” (Hatsune). Genji pays a New Year’s visit to his daughter’s rooms at Rokujō palace.

    Panel 6
    Chapter 24: “Butterflies” (Kochō). Page-girls dressed as butterflies join in the festive springtime celebrations being held in Murasaki’s garden.

    Panel 7
    Chapter 25: “The Fireflies” (Hotaru). When Prince Hotaru, Genji’s half-brother, pays a visit to Tamakazura, Genji prepares to release a swarm of fireflies to illuminate her charming features.

    Panel 8 (far left)
    Chapter 26: “The Pink” (Tokonatsu). Tō-no-Chūjō, who has been worrying about his daughter Kumoinokari’s future, visits her to discuss her marriage plans.

    Chapter 27: “Flares” (Kagaribi). After giving a koto lesson accompanied by romantic gestures, Genji spends the night with Tamakazura, the daughter of Tō-no-Chūjō, who has become a refined lady of the court since her return to the capital.

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