Exhibition: ‘The Tale of Genji’: A Japanese Classic Illuminated, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through 16 June 2019
He made a show of dressing modestly in a hunting cloak, of changing his costume, and of giving her no look at his face, and he never came to her until everyone in the house was asleep. He was so like a shape-changing creature of old that he caused her acute anguish, although his man- ner with her, and her own sen8se of touch, made her wonder how great a lord he might be.
They first see one another in the light of the autumn full moon and at that moment Genji impulsively decides to whisk her away to a deserted mansion where they can enjoy the rare luxury of a whole day and night together. Even then, Genji attempts to hide his face.
She was thoroughly offended that he still had his face covered, and he agreed that this was unnatural by now.
The flower you see disclosing now its secrets in the evening dew glimmered first before your eyes in a letter long ago.
He said, “Does the gleam of the dew please you?”
With a sidelong glance she murmured,
The light I saw fill the dewdrops adorning then a twilight beauty. Was nothing more than a trick of the day’s last fading gleam!
He was delighted.
-Excerpt, Chapter 4, The Tale of Genji
“The Tale of Genji,”(源氏物語) is a novel in Japan’s Heian period (794-1185), written by a noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu in the court of Empress Sh¬shi (988–1074) roughly between the years of 1006 to 1010. And Prince Genji, the main character of the first part of the tale is the favorite son of the Emperor.
The story, written in more than 1,000 pages, unfolds in 54 chapters with a large cast of three generations that includes beautiful live-in mistresses, part-time lovers, children, devoted retainers and Genji's brothers.
Written in a period which was considered the golden age of Japanese culture, as it was mainly ruled by aristocratic families which paid more attention to rituals and beauty, the novel is universally recognized as the greatest masterpiece of Japanese prose narrative, perhaps the earliest true novel in the history of the world.
Murasaki Shikibu is not the real name of the author, but a sort of a pen name. It is a combination of Murasaki, one of the main heroines and an office title of her father, Shikibu (Bureau of Rites), because her father held a post at one time in that bureau.
Over the centuries, many Japanese artists have tried to give its scenes visual form in illustrated “Genji” albums, handscrolls, hanging scrolls, large folding screens and miniaturized version of colorless ink-line painting.
This is the first major loan exhibition in North America to focus on the artistic tradition inspired by Japan's most celebrated work of literature, The Tale of Genji. Covering the period from the eleventh century to the present, the exhibition features more than 120 works, including paintings, calligraphy, silk robes, lacquer wedding set items, a palanquin for the shogun's bride, and popular art such as ukiyo-e prints and modern manga. Highlights include two National Treasures and several works recognized as Important Cultural Properties. For the first time ever outside Japan, rare works are on view from Ishiyamadera Temple—where, according to legend, Shikibu started writing the tale.