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Rectangular Tray with Scene from the Tale of Genji

Period:
Edo period (1615–1868)
Date:
early 17th century
Culture:
Japan
Medium:
Gold maki-e on black lacquer, inlaid with mother-of-pearl
Dimensions:
H. 1 5/8 in. (4.1 cm); W. 30 1/8 in. (76.5 cm); D. 16 1/8 in. (41 cm)
Classification:
Lacquer
Credit Line:
Purchase, Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation Gift, 2002
Accession Number:
2002.2
  • Description

    The size, the geometric motifs on the borders, and the extensive use of pearl shell indicate that this tray was intended for trade to Europe. The main decoration, however, derives from classic Japanese literature, specifically the Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari). Written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu around the year 1000 and often cited as the first psychological novel in world literature, the book traces the tumultuous life and dramatic loves of Genji, a distant member of the royal family who spent much of his life as a commoner. The massive work is divided into fifty-four chapters and contains more than four hundred characters. The scene on the tray illustrates a moment in the sixteenth chapter, when Genji (seated in the carriage and not visible) passes by a former lover while they are both traveling and is assailed by bittersweet memories.

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    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
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