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the world of the Shining Prince

TOSA Mitsuoki Scene from 'The tale of Genji’ 1600s (detail), hanging scroll: ink and colour on silk, purchased 2004.

2008 marks the 1000th anniversary of Japan’s oldest novel, The tale of Genji, written by the court-lady Murasaki Shikibu.

Since the 12th century, the 54 chapters of the tale have inspired Japanese artists to visualise the fascinating world of the story’s main character – the Shining Prince (Hikaru Genji) – in countless hand scrolls, folding screens, hanging scrolls and albums. Painted mostly by artists of the Kano, Tosa and Sumiyoshi schools, these pictures known as Genji-e reflect the refined aesthetics of the courtly tradition.

Originally written for the social elite, The tale of Genji became popular with the townspeople of the Edo period through the publication of a vernacular version, written by Ryutei Tanehiko and illustrated by Utagawa Kunisada, which was published as 38 volumes of woodblock printed books between 1828 and 1842.

Kunisada’s elaborate illustrations triggered a boom for single-sheet series as well as triptychs of woodblock prints depicting the handsome prince and his entourage in lavishly decorated interiors as well as in outdoor activities.

The classical tale has not lost its fascination for the art world. Modern translations, adaptations as Kabuki plays, Takarazuka musicals, opera, films, manga comics and anime abound, proving the unbroken popularity of the story.

Featuring about 70 works drawn from the Gallery’s collection as well as loans from other Australian major public and private collections of Japanese art, this exhibition aims to show the imaginative power of Japanese artists in adapting the classical theme in various media.

12 Dec 2008 – 15 Feb 2009

Free admission

South Building, ground level, Asian Lantern galleries