Scenes from The Tale of Genji

Tosa Mitsuyoshi and Chōjirō17th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

Albums containing delicate, exquisitely executed paintings of scenes from The Tale of Genji ( J. Genji monogatari) were produced in great numbers from the end of the Muromachi period through the beginning of the Edo period. This extraordinary work with intricate, jewel-toned brushwork is one of the most important of its genre. It is considered an authentic work in the hand of the master painter Tosa Mitsuyoshi, successor to the Tosa school lineage.
The paintings follow the order of the novel’s narrative from chapter one through fort-eight; after that follow six scenes that retell the first six chapters. The last six chapters are not depicted in this album. Recent conservation of this work has revealed artist seals in black ink stamped on the backs of some of the images: a signature reading “Kyūyoku” appears on the backs of the first thirty-five paintings, while a seal reading “Chōjirō” was found on the reverse of the final six images. The thirteen intermediary scenes are not stamped, but their painting style is in keeping with that of the final six scenes. These factors suggest that the first thirty-five
images were done by Tosa Mitsuyoshi, who used the Buddhist name Kyūyoku after becoming a monk. The paintings in the latter part of the album were likely done by an artist named Chōjirō, thought to have been a leading student of Mitsuyoshi.
The backs of the text pages of the album are inscribed with the names of their calligraphers. These include Emperor Goyōzei (1572–1617) as well as other members of the imperial family, high-ranking court officials, and renowned calligraphers of the day. From the official titles used by these figures at the time of their signing, we can date the texts between the years 1614 and 1619. The only contributors to sign their names directly on the fronts of the poem cards were Tarōkimi, daughter of the eminent calligrapher Konoe Nobutada (1565–1614), and his adopted son and successor, Konoe Nobuhiro (1599–1649). For this reason, many scholars believe that a close affiliate to Konoe Nobutada commissioned this album.


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