Created in Heian times by a team of female artists: the oldest surviving Japanese scroll of what may be the world's first novel

Tale of Genji Scroll

Japan — Ca. 1120–1140

Tale of Genji Scroll

Tale of Genji Scroll

Japan — Ca. 1120–1140

  1. Murasaki Shikibu (ca. 973/78 – ca. 1014/31) was a lady-in-waiting, poet, and author at the imperial court

  2. Her work offers precious insight into the customs of the contemporary aristocracy and their romantic entanglements

  3. It is believed to have originated from a team of female artists who created peaceful, elegant, and static scenes

Tale of Genji Scroll

Alternative Titles:
  • Geschichte vom Prinzen Genji
  • Genji Monogatari Emaki
Tale of Genji Scroll  – Gotoh Museum (Tokyo, Japan)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

The Tale of Genji is a remarkable work of classical Japanese literature and one of the most important works of world literature with far reaching influences both from the story itself and the artistic tradition of illustrating that story in Japanese manuscripts. It originated from the hand of Murasaki Shikibu (ca. 973/78 – ca. 1014/31), a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court during the Heian Period who was also active as a poet and author. Her novel gives in inside look into customs, daily life, and romance among the Japanese aristocracy and the imperial court ca. 1000. The Genji Monogatari Emaki is an illuminated scroll that represents the oldest surviving specimen of this literary tradition, and it is for this reason inter alia that it is a Japanese National Treasure. Few manuscript are so significant simultaneously for the history of art and literature!

Tale of Genji Scroll

This classical work of Japanese literature has been called the world’s first novel, the first modern novel, first psychological novel, and the earliest novel to still be considered a classic. The debate about how to classify it aside, the Tale of Genji is a remarkable work, not least of which because of the identity of its author: Murasaki Shikibu (ca. 973/78 – ca. 1014/31), a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court during the Heian Period who was also active as a poet and author. Created at the beginning of the 11th century, it is a highlight of Japan’s Heian period – Heian meaning peace in Japanese – when the country enjoyed great stability and a cultural golden age. The Heian period was also when the Japanese court reached its peak in terms of art, poetry, and literature. Murasaki Shikibu’s work is a depiction of life at the imperial court and concentrates in particular on the customs of the contemporary aristocracy and their romantic entanglements. It recounts the life of Hikaru Genji or “Shining Genji”, so-called because of his supreme handsomeness and intellect. Genji is born the son of the Emperor Kiritsubo and a low-ranking, but beloved concubine. He is removed from the line of succession for political reasons, and so he pursues a career as an imperial officer. The romantic adventures and misadventures of the protagonist are the lens through which this literary masterpiece presents an inside view into life at the Japanese imperial court a millennium ago. This illuminated Genji scroll, known as the Genji Monogatari Emaki is the oldest surviving specimen of the work, whose artistry contrasts realistic, detailed depictions of architecture with unrealistic, typified faces.

A Japanese National Treasure

Unfortunately, the original 11th century manuscript by Murasaki Shikibu no longer exists. The Genji Monogatari Emaki from ca. 1140 is not only a national treasure because it is the oldest Genji manuscript, but also the earliest surviving artwork of the so-called Yamato-e tradition, which is considered to be the classical Japanese style and has continued to influence Japanese art into the present. This manuscript is also the oldest non-Buddhist scroll and the oldest monogatari scroll. Its title consists of the word emaki, stemming from the word Emakimono meaning “picture scrolls”, and monogatari, an extended prose narrative similar to an epic. Artistically speaking, it is purely Japanese and breaks with the Chinese influenced art forms that were common in the time, and is also written in Early Middle Japanese instead of Chinese, which was in vogue among the aristocracy. The scroll contains 19 paintings, 65 sheets of text, and 9 loose pages. It is only a fragment of the original, which must have consisted of 20 scrolls comprising 100 paintings, 300 sheets of calligraphy, and would have been 450-feet-long altogether. It is believed to have originated from a team of female artists, who used the Fukinuki yatai and hikime kagibana techniques to create peaceful, elegant, and static scenes that reflected the tastes of the contemporary Japanese aristocracy. Fukinuki yatai presents events in an interior space from above as though the roof were removed and hikime kagibana depicts faces either from an oblique angle or in profile with essentially identical features, so as to protect the reader’s individual image of the characters.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Geschichte vom Prinzen Genji
Genji Monogatari Emaki
Size / Format
4 scrolls / 21.9 x 817.3 cm 21.8 x 535.6 cm 22.1 x 472.0 cm 21.8 x 541.2 cm
Origin
Japan
Date
Ca. 1120–1140
Language
Illustrations
19 illustrations
Artist / School
Previous Owners

2 available facsimile edition(s) of „Tale of Genji Scroll “

Die Geschichte vom Prinzen Genji
Tale of Genji Scroll  – Gotoh Museum (Tokyo, Japan)
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Die Geschichte vom Prinzen Genji

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Commentary
1 volume by Ruth Mettler
More Information
Reproduction of the entire preserved parts of the original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
Edition available
Price: Login here!
Genji Monogatari Emaki
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Genji Monogatari Emaki

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Limited Edition
Not limited
Binding
Wooden Box
Commentary
1 volume by Tokugawa Yoshinobu
Language: Japanese
More Information
Reproduction of the entire preserved parts of the original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Copy available – Ask for a quote!
Copy available – Ask for a quote!
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