Genji triptychs

 

The Tale of Genj (Genji monogatari) is the greatest novel in classical Japanese literature, and arguably, the world’s first novel.  It was written in the first decade of the eleventh century by Lady Murasaki, and relates the womanizing exploits of Prince Genji.  Most of the prints depicting Prince Genji portray a sumptuously clothed prince surrounded by beautiful women, who are also extravagantly dressed.  The individual sheets of these triptychs are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ōban.  I am grateful to Ward Pieters for assisting with this section.

Series: Fashionable Quartet of Flower, Bird, Wind and Moon (Jisei kwachōfūgetsu)

Robinson: 147

Title: Wind ()

Description: Prince Genji with 2 beauties in a windy garden

Date: c. 1848

Publisher: Arita-ya Seiemon

Series: Fashionable Quartet of Flower, Bird, Wind and Moon (Jisei kwachōfūgetsu)

Robinson: 147

Title: Moon ()

Description: Prince Genji with beauties on a moonlit deck

Date: c. 1848

Publisher: Arita-ya Seiemon

Series: Select Five Elements (Mitate go gyō)

Robinson: 139

Title: Wood (ki)

Description: Prince Genji entertains two beauties disguised as Nuns under a tree in the rain

Date: 4th month of 1852

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei

 

NOTE: Chapter 49 is titled Yadorigi, which literally means “mistletoe”, but may also mean “sheltering”.  Mistletoe is a woody plant, but the image is one of sheltering from the rain under a tree.

Series: Select Five Elements (Mitate go gyō)

Robinson: 139

Title: Fire (hi), The Fishing Fire (Kagaribi)

Description: Prince Genji and three beauties under a blossoming cherry trees on a river bank at night looking at fish in a tub, with cormorant fishermen in their boats with torches (to attract the fish) in the background. This refers to Chapter 27 (Kagaribi) of Genji monogatari.

Date: 4th month of 1852

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei

                                    

Series: Select Five Elements (Mitate go gyō)

Robinson: 139

Title: Earth (tsuchi)

Description: Genji at window

Date: 4th month of 1852

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei

Series: Select Five Elements (Mitate go gyō)

Robinson: 139

Title: Metal (kane)

Description: Prince Genji, sitting on a veranda by a peony garden with female attendants

Date: 4th month of 1852

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei

Series: Select Five Elements (Mitate go gyō)

Robinson: 139

Title: Water (mizu)

Description: Genji and two beauties watching ducks from a boat drifting on a snowy river

Date: 4th month of 1852

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei

 

NOTE: This triptych is an allusion to chapter 51 (Ukifune) in which the lovers prince Niou and Ukifune elope by boat in the middle of winter.

Title: Boating in the Chinese Style (Jukan Funa Asobi)

Description: Prince Genji watching from a balcony as two ladies are being rowed in a fantastic, ornate pleasure boat by young girls in Chinese costumes

Date: 1847-52

Publisher: Sumiyoshi-ya Masagorō

Another state of the above triptych

The existence of this polyptych makes it unclear whether the above states were originally larger compositions

Series: None

Title: Up-to-date Teruuji in an Old Picture at an Old Temple (Imayō Teruuji furudera no kozu)

Description: Prince Genji at an old temple, not a specific stage performance

Date: 1849-51

Publisher: Sawa-ya Kōkichi

Series: Moon, Snow, and Flowers (Getsusekka no uchi)

Robinson: Not listed

Title: Snow (Yuki)

Description:

Date: 1847-52

Publisher: Jōshūya Kinzō

Title: Genji hotaru

Description: Catching fireflies on a summer’s evening

Date: 1848

Publisher: Enshū-ya Hokobei

Title: None

Description: Six beauties and Prince Genji watching the antics of a performing monkey (saru-mawashi)

Date: c. 1850

Publisher: Izumi-ya Ichibei

Title: Shunshoku hime hajime

Description: Prince Genji on horseback

Date: c. 1845-1847

Publisher: Ningyo-ya Takichi

Title: Imayo - Tale of Ise

Description: Imayo- Tale of Ise

Date: 1847-1852

Publisher:

 

NOTE: This triptych is from The Tales of Ise (Ise monogatari, 伊勢物語), and not from The Tale of Genji.  However, like most Genji triptychs, it portrays a handsome well dressed young man surrounded by beautiful women.

Title: Murasaki’s Edo (Edo murasaki)

Description: Prince Genji washing his hands (centre) with two women in attendance

Date:

Publisher: Kazusa-ya Iwazō (Iwakichi)

Title: None

Description: Prince Genji with attendants and falling cherry blossoms watching the shellfish gatherers on the shore at low tide

Date:

Publisher: Tsujioka-ya Bunsuke

Title: None

Description: Prince Genji and his dog, between two courtesans, under blossoming cherry trees

Date: 1854

Publisher: San-Tetsu

Title: None

Description: Young nobleman (possibly Genji) shooting an arrow at a target as archery practice, with kneeling woman in front of him and attendants watching

Date:

Publisher: Enshu-ya Matabei

“Robinson” indicates listing in Kuniyoshi by Basil William Robinson, 1961, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

 

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