Scenes from the Tale of Genji Artist: Kyoto Kano School


Asian Art

Not on view

The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari), a novel of courtly life with the Buddhist overtone of the philosophical concept of "mono no aware" (fragility of things in the world) in the Heian period (794–1185), is perhaps the most famous work of Japanese literature of all time. Written in the early eleventh century by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu, the story of the life and loves of the fictitious Prince Genji has endured for nearly one thousand years as the epitome of the classical Japanese novel. Throughout this time, the Tale of Genji has had an enormous impact on Japanese art. During the Edo period, classical themes such as Genji enjoyed a resurgence of popularity, and these two screens are a testament to the care and precision with which artists rendered the detail of this novel.

In the right half of the pair, the six-year-old Genji, seen in the panels on the right side, hears the predictions of a Korean physiognomist that he has the potential for greatness. In the panels to the left, his worldly success and grandeur are seen at their height: the occasion is a concert given by Genji's ladies at his Rokujo mansion. All of the ladies except for Akashi have learned their musical mastery from Genji himself, and their koto performance is a testimony to his achievement. Included in the scene is a depiction of Genji's son tuning a koto on the veranda.

The left half of the pair opens on the right with the bishop of Yokawa and his party discovering the weeping Ukifune lying prostrate beneath a tree where, having vowed to commit suicide, she has collapsed. In the background is the temple of Hatsuse (Hasedera), where the bishop had come on pilgrimage and where Ukifune herself earlier made a pilgrimage (chapter 49 Yadorigi). He rescues Ukifune, takes her to the temple (in Uji and then to Yokawa) to recover, and eventually administers Buddhist rites to the unhappy girl. In the left three panels, Genji's carriage is shown waiting as a courtier receives a fan from an attendant of Yugao, the "Lady of the Evening Faces." This is the beginning of an affair that ends in Yugao's death.


Pair of six-panel folding screens: ink, color, gold pigment, gold flecks, and gold foil on paper


unframed: 45 3/8 × 146 1/16 in. (115.3 × 371 cm)
with frame: 51 3/8 × 152 5/8 × 5/8 in. (130.50 × 387.7 × 1.6 cm)

Credit Line

Edward H. Dunlap, B.A. 1934, Fund

Accession Number



Edo period (1615–1868)


Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of records is ongoing.



Purchased by the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 1984
  • Edward Kamens, "'The Tale of Genji' and 'Yashima' Screens in Local and Global Contexts," in "Japanese Art at Yale," special issue, Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2007), 100–103, fig. 1, 2
  • Sadako Ohki, "Japanese Art at Yale," Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2007), 38
  • Handbook of the Collections, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), 305, ill
  • Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 39 (Winter 1986), 52, ill
Object copyright
Additional information

Object/Work type

landscapes (representations), screens (furniture)




No signature but a faint seal mark in the shape of urn is found at the low right corner of the first panel (the extreme right) on the Right screen and at the low left corner of the last panel (extreme left) of the left screen that could be read "Yukinobu" (Kano Yukinobu 1513-75). It must be a later interpolation as the visual analysis supports it was perhaps made ca. 1620-40. 6/15/07 SO

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