Tray with Scene from the Tale of Genji
Edo period (1615–1868)
early 17th century
Black lacquer with gold maki-e and mother-of-pearl inlay
H. 1 5/8 in. (4.1 cm); W. 30 1/8 in. (76.5 cm); D. 16 1/8 in. (41 cm)
Purchase, Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation Gift, 2002
The size, geometric motifs, and extensive use of pearl shell suggest that this tray may have been intended for trade to Europe. The imagery, however, derives from the Tale of Genji, one of Japan’s most famous literary works. Written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu (ca. 978–ca. 1014), this lengthy book traces the customs of the aristocratic society and the tumultuous love life of Hikaru Genji, a distant member of the imperial family.
The tray illustrates a moment when Genji (seated in the cart and not visible) passes by a former illicit lover while traveling. Both are assailed by bittersweet memories as they glimpse each other in passing.