Kanō Ryūsetsu Hidenobu, Genji monogatari ('The Tale of Genji');, a pair of handscroll paintings

Early Edo period, late 17th - early 18th century AD

A painting competition before the emperor

'The Tale of Genji' is the famous early eleventh-century novel by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu, relating the life and loves of the fictive Prince Genji and the court circles around him. Various schools produced Genji-e (‘Genji pictures'), each applying its own techniques and styles. This example illustrates one scene from each of the novel's fifty-four chapters (twenty-seven on each scroll), but contains no text.

The scene illustrated is taken from chapter 17, 'E-awase', and shows a painting competition held before the young emperor. Two princesses have been presented at court and each one, with her family's help, is trying to win the emperor's favour by presenting him with splendid paintings. At the final competition depicted here, Genji secures the victory of his ward Akikonomu by including his own exquisite paintings from his period of exile.

In the customary convention of Genji-e, the rooms are viewed as if with roofs removed, and we see the emperor and the former empress Fujitsubō each seated on a low dais. Three ladies from each team sit before them in their colourful, multi-layered kimono, and at the edges of the room stand two folding screens. The colouring and detail of the scene, as well as the sprinkling of gold dust around it, help evoke the cultivated atmosphere associated with the imperial court of the Heian period (784-1185).

The signature on each scroll reads 'Kanō Ryūsetsu hitsu' ('From the brush of Kanō Ryūsetsu'). The seals on each read 'Kanō Ryūsetsu' and 'Hidenobu no in' ('Seal of Hidenobu'). Ryūsetsu (1646-1712) was a leading painter of the Tsukiji Odawara branch of the Kanō school, who served as a painter in attendance (goyō-eshi) to the shogunate after 1669.

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More information


I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan-1, vol. 2 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1992)


Height: 373.000 mm (both scrolls)
Length: 23194.000 mm (first scroll)
Length: 23194.000 mm (first scroll)

Museum number

Asia JA JP ADD306-7 (1949.10-8.014.1-2)


Gift of Mrs James Martin White


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