Genji travelling by night, from the Tale of Genji

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    In this scene from the Akashi chapter (chapter 13) of the Tale of Genji, the protagonist makes his visit to the daughter of a monk in the hills. Genji is full of apprehension, uncertain whether his presence will be at all welcome. On horseback, he travels with several attendants along a pine-covered shore with spring plants dotting their path. Barely perceptible are the shells at the water's edge.

    The verse reads:

    Race on through the moonlit sky,
    O roan-coloured horse,
    And let me be briefly with her for whom I long.

    [This is translated in Edward G. Seidensticker, Mirasaki Shikubu:The Tale of Genji (London: Secker and Warburg, 1976), 262].

    The once-silver moon has tarnished and is hardly noticeable against the darkened lapis lazuli sky Other mineral pigments have faded, including the brown of the guide’s trousers revealing a colour notation underneath that reads koi enji (deep red). In this small painting, details are rendered in such delicate miniature as to seem impossible, yet every finger, toe and strand of hair in a beard is clearly seen. The pattern of Genji’s robe and the tassels of the horse’s trappings are delicately and carefully done, leaving us in no doubt that this is the work of an artist well versed in painting in miniature, as was the Tosa school in the seventeenth century. The depiction of the scene is a rather standard one including all of the basic elements such as Genji on horseback, a page, a guide pointing the way, and the full moon. Missing here, though, is the roof of the temple for which they are headed [for another depiction of the same scene attributed to an early Edo period Tosa school artist in the Sakai City Museum, see Akiyama Ken and Taguchi Eiichi, eds, Gōka ‘Genji-e’ no sekai, Genji monogatari (Tokyo: Gakushū kenkyūsha, 1999), 74.].

    In: Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003)

Further reading

Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003), no. 43 on p. 154, pp. 14 & 152, illus. p. 155

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