The Tale of Genji

Main building
17.05.2024 - 03.11.2024

Opening: 16.05.2024, 18.00

Exhibition concept and design: Dr Habil. Anna Król, Professor at Kraków AFA Painting interventions: Kaja Mucha

From the Japanese Collection of Feliks "Manggha" Jasieński

Over a thousand years ago, the aristocrat, lady of the court and poet Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji, or Genji monogatari, a masterpiece of Japanese literature that is part of the world’s cultural heritage.

Anticipating modern literature, this innovative psychological novel depicts the world of the Heian period in ways surprisingly akin to those of our time, through the protagonists’ emotions and feelings. It is characterised by a variety of narrative strategies as well as the use of understatement and double entendre. An excellent study of the era, written in precise and evocative language, its narrates the love stories of Prince Genji nicknamed Hikaru (‘radiant’ or ‘shining’) and his offspring in 54 chapters and 1,100 pages.

Genji monogatari is the foundational work for Japanese culture. For over a millennium, it has inspired artists to draw, design, and animate. Since its inception, the story has been accompanied by illustrations, providing a unique combination of literature and visual language. Since the 12th century onwards, these have included paintings – scrolls, screens, fans and albums – as well as woodblock prints since the 17th century. These representations were referred to as genji-e, or ‘pictures on the subject of Prince Genji’.

The exhibition The Tale of Genji, which is the third in our museum’s series of selections from the Japanese collection of Feliks ‘Manggha’ Jasieński (1861–1929), one of the greatest Polish collectors and patrons of the arts, shows more than just woodblock prints relating to the novel. Its main theme – for the first time – is a presentation of two phenomenal female literary artists, Murasaki Shikibu, the novelist, and Ono no Komachi, who wrote exquisite love poetry. Thus, image and word coexist and interact in the show.

Created by the late Edo period ukiyo-e masters, such as Hiroshige or Kunisada, the by now classical illustrations shown in this exhibition provide ready material for manga and other comics and animation artists, and are accompanied here by a work by a young artist, Kaja Mucha, inspired by the figures of Ono no Komachi and Murasaki Shikibu.

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