At the court of Prince Genji, a thousand years of Japanese imagination

From November 22, 2023 to March 25, 2024 at MNAA-GUIMET

Famous for the extreme refinement of its court art, imperial Japan of the Heian period (794-1185) notably gave birth to a major work of classical Japanese literature, the Tale of Genji. Written in the 11th century by a woman, the poet Murasaki Shikibu, it has generated an extremely rich iconography over a thousand years, influencing even contemporary mangaka.

This event exhibition invites visitors to immerse themselves in ancient Japan, discovering the Heian period (794-1185) and its court art. This period of freedom for women, with particularly rich artistic production, notably saw the emergence of a unique women's literature in Japanese history. They took up waka style poems which they wrote using a cursive writing system derived from Chinese and adapted to the Japanese language of the time. Freed from the Chinese model, they produced works mixing waka and prose, in the form of journals or told stories.

The most famous text written in the 11th century by the poet Murasaki Shikibu, the Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari) is today considered the most emblematic work of classical Japanese literature. Through a subtle evocation of all the refinements of the imperial court, The Tale of Genji opens the way to exceptional pictorial creativity and sparks an extremely rich iconography to be discovered in the exhibition and coming from the Guimet museum and several French and Japanese collections : prints, fabrics, kimonos, sculptures, paintings and precious objects, including the lacquer boxes of an illustrious collector, Marie-Antoinette.

A founding novel for Japanese culture, The Tale of Genji continues to inspire contemporary artistic expressions, such as manga, which reinterpret its codes and themes. The most famous is undoubtedly Asaki yume mishi from Waki ​​Yamato (born in 1948). The recent edition of Sean Michael Wilson (2022), illustrated by Inko Ai Takita will be presented in the exhibition.

The second part of the exhibition is dedicated to Itarô Yamaguchi (1901-2007), master weaver from the Nishijin district of Kyoto, and author of four formidable scrolls illustrating the Tale of Genji, representing the culmination of a life devoted to weaving . Made from painted scrolls from the Heian period, and by hybridization with the high technicality of Western Jacquard mechanics and its digital avatar, the four exceptional scrolls are shown for the first time together and unfolded in their entirety. They are presented with everyday objects, preparatory drawings and works woven by the master.

This exhibition is organized in partnership with the Franco-Japanese Sasakawa Foundation, which with this event celebrates thirty years of action for the development of cultural relations and friendship between France and Japan. The foundation is recognized as being of public utility.

Curator: Aurélie Samuel, heritage curator


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