Illuminating Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji is a fascinating story — and not just because of the scenes depicted in the novel itself.

And there's a reason this novel has not only survived the centuries, but was a day and a half's worth of an art class lesson in school for me.

Written around year 1000, the Tale follows the story of a prince and offers a glimpse into the realities of court life.

This isn't just a fantasized version of royal life written by some anonymous author — Tale of Genji was written by a noblewoman, Murasaki Shikibu.

Yes, that's right — this story has survived over 1000 years and was written by a woman!

Golden book cabinet that carried 54, now lost, volumes of the novel, 18th century

One of the best outcomes from this being written so long ago, apart from having been preserved this long, is that we have hundreds of artistic representations of the scenes from the text.

Gold and silver indigo hand scroll, 12th century

Interestingly, many artists employed the same methodology of one image or a horizontal set of images to represent the main story line or theme of each chapter due to the novel's length.

Chapter cover art

Two-panel folding screen depicting Chapter 5, 17th century

A special exhibit is currently on at the Met, sharing case upon case of beautiful hand painted, scrolls, illuminated manuscripts of the text, book cabinets, kimono, fans, and contemporary art.

I'm already biased towards scroll painting, but this exhibit is just exquisite.

Freestanding screen, 19th century

Catch it before it ends in mid June — more here!

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