Japan: The Human Form and Narratives 

Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji (1008, Genji monogatari) is commonly regarded as the highest achievement within the canon of Japanese literature and stands as a powerful icon of Japanese cultural identity. It holds the reputation of being a paragon of classical literature and can be said to symbolize a peak of Japanese cultural achievement in the premodern era. The Genji monogatari emaki (cs. 1140, illustrated handscrolls of The Tale of Genji), which represent the oldest surviving copy of the Genji text, have thus by association earned the status of a sacred relic to be enshrined and “resurrected” in order to preserve or renew a sense of national pride. Each painting in the Genji emaki was originally preceded by a kotobagaki, and each kotobagaki provided a framing narrative to contextualize and foreshadow the scene depicted in the painting (Dying in Two Dimensions: “Genji emaki” and the Wages of Depth Pereception). This gallery presents the picture scrolls and or artwork created based on The Tale of Genji to explore the life of the main character, Genji in the late Heian era and how the human forms achieve narrative through the stories within. The Tale of Genji is representational not only because but also because of its influences on the development of The Tale of Genji handscroll and many Japanese art later. The five handscrolls of The Tale of Genji represented in this collection are the narrative human forms from the life of the Prince Genji. 

Emaki in this exhibition: 

·         Wisps of Cloud (Usugumo), Illustration to Chapter 19 of the “Tale of Genji”, Muromachi Period, 1392-1568, w17.9 x h24.1 cm, the nineteenth of a series of 54 painted album leaves mounted in an album with calligraphic excerpts; ink, color, and gold on paper, Harvard Art Museum.  

·         Kemari Scene from chapter 34 of The Tale of Genji, 1850-1855, Edo period, Ink and color on silk, Freer Gallery of Art.  

·         Two Scens of the Tale of Genji, 17th century, w345.2 x h140.8 cm, color on paper, Fukuoka Art Museum.  

Woodblock Print in this exhibition:  

·         The Tale of Genji, 1868, Print; Ink on Paper, w252 x h365 mm, Museum Victoria Collections  

·         Genji Crossing the Oi River, 1862, Print; Ink of Paper, w254 x h370 mm, Museum Victoria CollectionsReferences:  


·         Stanley-Baker, Richard, Murakami, Fuminobu, and Tambling, Jeremy, eds. Reading the Tale of Genji : Its Picture Scrolls, Texts and Romance (1). Leiden, NL: Global Oriental, 2009. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 27 April 2016.  

·         Knapp, Bettina L. "Lady Murasaki Shikibu's the Tale of Genji: Search for the Mother."Symposium 46.1 (1992): 34. ProQuest. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. 

·         Watanabe, Masako. “Narrative Framing in the "tale of Genji Scroll": Interior Space in the Compartmentalized Emaki”. Artibus Asiae 58.1/2 (1998): 115–145. Web...  

·         Shumway, Larry. "Contextualizing The Tale Of Genji With Other Arts Of Its Period." Interdisciplinary Humanities 20.2 (2003): 44-56. Academic Search Main Edition. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

·        JACKSON, REGINALD. “Dying in Two Dimensions: "genji Emaki" and the Wages of Depth Perception”.Mechademia 7 (2012): 150–172. Web...

"The Tale of Genji" relates to the human form and narrative theme because the human form of the woman in the foreground whose gaze leads the viewers's eye to the women in the back suggests narrative.
Genji Crossing the Oi River shows the contrast of the social class in the Edo Period, as shown in the foreground: Genji and two courtesans in gorgeous clothing (upper class) and two topless laborers (lower class) in the river. Smoothness of the image intimates a refinement of execution at both the scientific and artisanal levels: the patterns lack of any roughness marks the overall quality of the reproduction as extraordinarily high (Dying in Two Dimensions:"Genji emaki" and the Wages of Depth Perception).
Though the faces are presented as generic in a white tinged slightly with cinnabar, with slanting straight lines for eyes, an “L”-shaped hook for a nose, and a very small red mouth, early viewers of the scroll would have been so well acquainted with the characters that the artists saw no need to paint other than a refined suggestion of a face. The technique for doing the faces was to paint a series of fine lines of white rather than a single white wash as is found in all later paintings. This softened and deepened the tone of the white, a small thing, to be sure, but it is indicative of the attention paid by the artists to the smallest, elegant detail(Reading the Tale of Genji : Its Picture Scrolls, Texts and Romance (1)).
According to "Reading the Tale of Genji : Its Picture Scrolls, Texts and Romance (1)", this scene portrays the encounter of Genji's third wife, known as the Third Princess and Genji's rival, Kashiwaji which leads to an affair. The bamboo scroll covers the face of the Third Princess and that confirms the fact that women in the Heian Period were not allowed to speak directly to men. The dress of the Third Princess indicated she is the same social class as the men playing kickball in the open area.
Narrative representation is finely compartmentalized into small, rectangular areas with text at regular intervals; the images and texts are subtly and complexly connected, and time and space are not continuously presented in a linear progression. The fundamental issue in the Genji scroll is a compositional device used to manipulate pictorial space, called fukinuki yatai: the removal of roof and wall and the retention of beams, to revel an interior space. The rudimentary function of fukinuki yatai is to manipulate two narrative spaces to illustrate two narrative moments. Furthermore, this device creates a pictorial tension between frames and geometric forces of the architectural elements, which serves to present the psychological state or emotion of characters. The compartmentalization frame in handscroll format plays a crucial role in signifying the nature of the interior of the character’s thought and mind (Reading the Tale of Genji : Its Picture Scrolls, Texts and Romance (1)).
Credits: All media
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