Shigure monogatari ("L'ondée")
Legs : Cernuschi, Henri
Literature and illustration are closely linked in Japan (see “Littérature et image au Japon”, Jacqueline Pigeot, in Le Grand Atlas des littératures, Encyclopedia Universalis, 1990). The growth of narrative prose, from the 10th century, owed much to the accompanying pictures. Novels or monogatari were read aloud before an audience that could follow the episodes through the illustrations. From the late 12th century until the 16th century, painted scrolls were very popular. They were replaced by bound books in the late Muromachi period (15th-16th century). These precious, illuminated manuscripts, which were fashionable until the second half of the 18th century, are known as Nara-e hon or “Nara picture books”. They were decorated with paintings in the Yamato-e style (“in the manner of Japan”). This highly decorative style, different to Chinese painting, emerged in the Heian period. The texts were generally works from medieval times, such as Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), or in the taste of times past. Texts and illustrations were intermingled, either placed side by side, as here, or arranged in amongst each other the same page. In the 17th century, booklets with separate text and images began to spread and became very popular for a time. From 1730, printed books replaced illustrated manuscripts for good.
The Shigure Monogatari, originally known as the Amayadori, dates from the late 16th century and relates the impossible love between two young people after a meeting at the temple of Kiyomizu, in Kyōto, during a rain shower. The first printed edition of the work dates from 1661, under the title Shigure no en.
The text of the manuscript belonging to the Cernuschi Museum was only partially copied; it was written in calligraphy on paper decorated with stencilled motifs and colours, and illustrated with 12 illuminations, two of which, the first and the last, cover a double page. This large-format book, lavishly decorated and gilded, was a luxury edition, as opposed to the smaller, more roughly executed rectangular copies, which are more commonly found.
Once attributed to the Genroku period (1688-1704), this Nara-e hon probably dates from the first half of the 17th century, given the quality of the paper and the book’s original format, which would become standardised in the 18th century.