The Twilight Beauty (Yûgao), Illustration To Chapter 4 Of The Tale Of Genji (Genji Monogatari)
Gallery Text

Harvard’s Genji Album is the oldest known complete cycle of album leaves of The Tale of Genji. A foundational work of Japanese literature, it recounts the life and loves of the fictional prince Hikaru Genji—a man of rare physical beauty and cultivated taste who epitomized the romantic ideal of Heian period (794–1185) nobility.

On the basis of style, the painted leaves have been attributed to Tosa Mitsunobu. Recent research has shed even more light on the circumstances surrounding the album’s original production. A medieval courtier’s diary suggests that it was commissioned by a provincial warrior who arranged for six prominent courtiers to provide the calligraphic excerpts. It is assumed that he also arranged for the illustrations to be provided by Mitsunobu, who was head of the Imperial Painting Bureau.

East Asian books and albums are traditionally viewed from right to left. The leaf at right illustrates a scene from chapter 3, in which Genji spies on Utsusemi, a young lady who has recently rejected him (1985.352.3.A). Genji bides his time, watching Utsusemi play the game of go with a companion, Nokiba no Ogi, waiting for a chance to meet with Utsusemi again. On the left, the painting from chapter 4 (1985.352.4.A) shows Genji and another of his lovers, Yūgao, sitting in her humble abode. Though she is a woman of some standing, her lodgings are quite lowly, and the romantic meeting is interrupted by the sounds of women pounding robes on a fulling block (upper right corner) and an old pilgrim praying loudly (lower left corner). The poetic imagery of the migrating geese, the full moon, and the sounds of the fulling block evokes a sense of autumnal melancholy.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
1985.352.4.A
People
Tosa Mitsunobu, Japanese (active c. 1469-1522)
Title
The Twilight Beauty (Yûgao), Illustration to Chapter 4 of the Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari)
Other Titles
Transliterated Title: Genji monogatari: Yûgao
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
album leaf, painting
Date
Muromachi period, datable to 1509-1510
Places
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan, Kyôto Metropolitan Area, Kyôto
Period
Muromachi period, 1392-1568
Culture
Japanese
Physical Descriptions
Medium
The fourth of a series of 54 painted album leaves mounted in an album with calligraphic excerpts; ink, color, and gold on paper
Dimensions
H. 24.2 cm x W. 18.0 cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/16 in.)
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of the Hofer Collection of the Arts of Asia
Accession Year
1985
Object Number
1985.352.4.A
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
Descriptions
Description
Genji & Yûgao together in a garden room listening to the sound of fabric being pounded (upper right) and an old man praying in preparation for a pilgrimage (lower left).
Publication History

Kaori Chino, "Tokushû: Genji monogatari gajô - Hâvâdo Daigaku Bijutsukan zô" [Special Issue: The Tale of Genji Album in the Collection of Harvard University Art Museums] (Tokyo, Japan, 1997), p. 25

Charo B. D'Etcheverry, Love After _The Tale of Genji_: Rewriting the World of the Shining Prince, Harvard University Asia Center Publications and Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 2007), Cover image (with caption info on rear inside dust jacket)

Le Dit du Genji de Murasaki-shikibu [The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu]: Illustré par la peinture traditionnelle japonaise du XII au XVII siècle [Illustrated by traditional Japanese painting of the 12th through 17th century], Editions Diane de Selliers (Paris, France, 2007 & 2008), Vol. 1 / p. 128 with details on p. 136 (2), 137 & 149

Takeshi Noguchi, Genji monogatari sennen kinen [The Millenium of The Tale of Genji], exh. cat., The Museum of Kyoto (Kyoto, Japan, April 2008), p. 160, Cat. No. 70

Melissa McCormick, "Genji Goes West: The 1510 Genji Album and the Visualization of Court and Capital", Art Bulletin, College Art Association of America (New York, March 2003), LXXXV No. 1, p. 76 / Fig. 25 (left)

Anne Rose Kitagawa, "Behind the Scenes of Harvard's Tale of Genji album", November 2001, p. 33 / Fig. 6 (left)

Exhibition History

The Millennium of the Tale of Genji, The Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto, 04/26/2008 - 06/08/2008

32Q: 2600 East Asian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 06/04/2015 - 11/29/2015

Related Works
Verification Level

4 - Best. Object is extensively researched, well described and information is vetted