The Tale of Genji—the story of the life and loves of Prince Genji—reveals the complex relationships in the Heian court (794–1185) as its members encounter pleasure, love, treachery, suffering, and loss. The Buddhist sensibly of ephemerality and karmic action are woven throughout this influential eleventh-century work.
Prince Genji’s story was visualized in multiple ways, particularly in the early Edo period. Here, the story is told in part, via nine scenes related to seven of the tale’s fifty-four chapters. These screens may have been part of a large ensemble that depicted all the chapters; their short height suggests that they were made for a wedding trousseau. During the Edo period, Genji screens were not uncommon in marriage dowries, suggesting that knowledge of the tale and its modes of comportment were important to high-status women. These elegant lessons of behavior competed with and complimented the neo-Confucian ethic espoused by the powerful Tokugawa shogunate.
As Sōtatsu became more active in the aristocratic orbit during the 1620s and ’30s, his studio increasingly engaged with classical subject matter associated with court culture.
Nine Scenes from the Tale of Genji
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (act. ca. 1600–40)
Japan, early to mid-17th century
Eight-panel folding screen
Ink, color, and gold on gilded paper.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, L2015.33.1