Tale of Genji 17c Japanese painting. Chapter 30, Fujibakama. Tosa school.



Purple Trousers (Fujibakama), Illustration to Chapter 30 of the Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari)

Tosa School (second half of the 17th century)

Ink, pigment, gofun and gold on paper.

Unframed album leaf.


Approximately 17 cm x 15 cm (6.7” x 6”)

Price: USD 3200

During the seventeenth century, Tosa School artists painted album leaves of Genji scenes in miniature. The viewer is rewarded on close inspection with the delicate facial features of the figures, the intricate patterns on drapery and clothing, and the careful depiction of various flowering trees and grasses. Viewed at a distance, the gold clouds and strong lines of the architecture in the different vignettes work together to form a unifying decorative pattern.

Presented here are individual album leaves from an incomplete set, each illustrating one chapter of the Tale of Genji. Exquisitely painted and beautifully preserved, they date to the second half of the 17th century. Roofs are entirely removed from houses to reveal small, doll-like figures within. Delicate flowers and plants suggest the seasons of the year. Surrounded by gilded clouds, these graceful paintings shimmer with uncommon beauty and delicacy.

One of the world’s greatest literary masterpieces and the finest achievement of classic Japanese prose narrative, The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu shortly after 1000 A.D., has provided endless inspiration for Japanese painters throughout the centuries. The Tale of Genji weaves a vivid depiction of aristocratic life in Heian Japan, which centres on the amorous exploits and political gameplay of the nobility.

Fujibakama (Purple Trousers) is a playful name for a lavender flower that blooms in fall. In the episode most frequently chosen for illustration from this chapter, Yuugiri (Genji’s son), comes in the autumn to deliver a letter of condolence to Tamakazura on the death of a relative. He pushes a letter, tied to a spray of Fujibakama in bloom, under her curtain and makes clear through a poem his romantic intentions. Tamakazura’s poetic reply indicates that she does not wish Yuugiri to come any closer.