Identification and Creation
Object Number
Tosa Mitsunobu, Japanese (active c. 1469-1522)
The Bluebell (Asagao), Illustration to Chapter 20 of the Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari)
Other Titles
Transliterated Title: Genji monogatari: Asagao
Work Type
album leaf, painting
Muromachi period, datable to 1509-1510
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan, Kyoto Metropolitan Area, Kyōto
Muromachi period, 1392-1568
Physical Descriptions
The twentieth of a series of 54 painted album leaves mounted in an album with calligraphic excerpts; ink, color, and gold on paper
H. 24.2 cm x W. 17.9 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
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Genji and Murasaki watch from the verandah as maidservants form a large snowball in the garden.

Label Text: 32Q: 2600 East Asian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean , written 2015
Harvard’s Genji Album is the oldest known complete cycle of album leaves of The Tale of Genji, a foundational work of Japanese literature that 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.
The painted leaves have been attributed on the basis of style to Tosa Mitsunobu. Recent research has shed 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 the right illustrates a scene from (1985.352.19.A) chapter 19 in which the young daughter of Prince Genji and the lowborn Lady Akashi is being prepared to leave her mother’s provincial residence. As a carriage waits and attendants look on, Lady Akashi (in white) is shown bidding the short-haired toddler a tearful farewell. Genji has arranged for the child to be brought to his home in the capital, so that she can be raised by Murasaki no Ue, his greatest love. The painting on the left (1985.352.20.A) shows a charming scene from chapter 20 in which Genji and Murasaki sit on a veranda, watching young maidservants play in a wintry garden. These illustrations have a freshness and spontaneity unmatched by later Tosa School depictions of this classic novel.

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. 29

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. 2 / p. 52 with details on p. 61 (2)

Takeshi Noguchi, Genji monogatari sennen kinen [The Millenium of The Tale of Genji], exh. cat., The Museum of Kyoto (Kyoto, Japan, April 2008), p. 161, Cat. No. 70

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji, Folio Society (2016), vol. 1, frontis

Melissa McCormick, The Tale of Genji: A Visual Companion, Princeton University Press (Princeton, 2018)

Exhibition History

A Decade of Collecting: Asian Acquisitions 1990-1999, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 03/11/2000 - 11/05/2000

A Compelling Legacy: Masterworks of East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/24/2004 - 03/20/2005

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, 11/01/2014 - 03/20/2015

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at