The thousand lives of Prince Genji exhibited at the Guimet museum

The thousand lives of Prince Genji exhibited at the Guimet museum

During the reign of Louis XIV, Madame de Lafayette signed with The Princess of Cleves one of the first modern novels in French literature, depicting the amorous throes of the eponymous heroine at the court of the Valois. Six centuries earlier, in Japan, the poet Murasaki Shikibu recounted the gallant adventures of the imperial prince Genji, giving birth to the first full-length novel in history. Written in the 11th century, during the Heian period (794-1185), The Tale of Genji constitutes the romantic masterpiece of classic Japanese letters. Just as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have continued to nourish the Western imagination, the tumultuous life of the prince imagined by Murasaki will inspire both writers and artists of the archipelago.

Thus, in the exhibition “At the court of Prince Genji – 1000 years of Japanese imagination” at the Guimet museum in Paris, his tribulations are depicted on prints, lacquer boxes and other art objects. And even in manga! Beyond the anecdote, a whole aesthetic is deployed here: mono no aware, “the feeling of things”, a contemplation mixed with melancholy where we are moved by the ephemerality of beauty .

The time of wonders

A screen of six panels from the Edo period, dating from the end of the 16th century, painted on paper, with ink, colors and gold leaf, where courtesans with long hair and faces painted with white white lead, immerses the visitor in the refinement of the alcoves and one of the episodes of Genji: “The storm”. Next to parody prints dating from the 19th century which depict a “provincial Genji”, we marvel at this kimono embroidered with white flowers and gold foliage. The highlight of the exhibition is undoubtedly the woven version of the great classic, created by master Itarô Yamaguchi (1901-2007), from a line of silk weavers. Master Yamaguchi devoted the last thirty-seven years of his life to him. Exhibited for the first time in France, these four brocade rolls make the loves of Genji the Radiant shimmer over more than thirty meters long!

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