Monday, April 8, 2019

THE TALE OF GENJI at the Metropolitan Museum: Review By Polly Guerin

The art of storytelling may well have its origins in THE TALE OF GENJI, a rich Japanese epic that one may conclude is the first and most historically romantic literature that captivated readers with spellbinding tales of romance and adventure. 
       Romantic writers today may well find great inspiration for although the stories date back to the early eleventh century, when they were written, they span over 54 chapters with a cast of some 500 characters in exquisitely illustrated and illuminated screens and scrolls. 
     The exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on view through June 16th also brings together more than 120 relics from twelve collections in Japan and the United States inspired by the book. The popular 54-chapter tale was written by the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu was a mix of storytelling themes centering on romantic encounters, entertainment, social conjecture and even Buddhist philosophy. 

It was the quintessential romantic story and like women devotees of the romantic novel genre today, the first readers were obsessed with the stories. At the core of the story line are the misadventures of the Emperor's son who, excluded from the line of succession, seeks restitution through romantic encounters with a cast of over 500 female personalities. And, oh
what a tale it was but not just for the elite, Murasaki's classic was available in modern
translations, books, drawings and popular prints distributed to a wide and eager audience.
Colorful episodes pull the reader in with mesmerizing descriptions of the Heian period and introduce beautiful and intriguing female characters. The most fascinating object on view include calligraphy texts and paintings drawn from the Edo period. The works on view reflect the wealth of patrons who commissioned magnificent screens, scrolls as inspiration from the book. Fashion also took a fancy to the Genji stories and produced magnificent gold encrusted silk robes and just in case a reader wanted to fancy herself a heroine in a story she would wear an elaborately embroidered kimono. Even a deck of playing cards printed with characters from the stories might get you in the mood.     
The Story of Genji is a story of serial sensationalism which captivated audiences not only with the romantic aspect of the story but provided details of opulent, privileged lifestyle, definitive descriptions of court life, the fashions they wore, the way they ate, drank an made merry. The screens are delightful to look at and tell individual stories of remarkable imagination.
The exhibition concludes with original drawings by the contemporary manga artist Yamato Waki, from his updated adaptation "Asaki Uume Mishi" a testament to the sagas remarkable legacy.   
     Ta Ta Darlings!!!   I wonder if anyone will take up the gauntlet, so to speak, and try to write
a saga of such monumental proportions today.  Alas, I do hope to hear from you please email
pollytalknyc@gmail.com.  Visit Polly's Blogs at www.pollytalk.com.

1 comment:

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