Underdrawings found on 'Tale of Genji' scroll

PHOTO: Courtesy of Tokugawa Art Museum

NAGOYA - The Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya has discovered underdrawings that differ from the finished paintings on three sections of a 15-section remnant of the "Genji Monogatari Emaki," or "The Picture Scroll of the Tale of Genji."

The museum found underdrawings whose composition or elements differ from paintings of the final pictorial rendition of the "Tale of Genji" in the process of restoring the remnant. The museum owns the 15-section part of the scroll, a national treasure.

One of the scenes that differ from the actual paintings depicts protagonist Hikaru Genji, a son of an ancient Japanese emperor, holding his second son, Kaoru, in his arms during a celebration marking the 50th day since his birth. The underdrawing of the scene depicts Kaoru stretching his arms toward Genji's face, although his arms are not visible in the actual scene.

"The scene depicts the complicated feelings of Genji, who knows Kaoru is not his son but the son of his adultrous wife's lover," an official at the museum said. "It's a precious discovery that shows the trial-and-error production process of the creator to convey the intention of the original story."

The scroll remnant is believed to have been produced in the first half of the 12th century together with a four-section remnant owned by the Gotoh Museum in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. It is the nation's oldest surviving picture scroll.

The Tokugawa museum, which announced the discovery on Nov.13, started restoring its part of the scroll three years ago for the first time since the Edo period (1603-1867) because the colors had faded and the scroll paper had deteriorated.

The museum examined the scroll with infrared scans and other means after the existence of what appeared to be underdrawings was confirmed. Underdrawings that differ from the finished scroll were found in three sections.

Museum official Hideki Yotsutsuji said the serious scene meant to show Genji's agony over the birth of the child might have been changed because the cuteness of the image of the baby's arms stretched toward Genji may have been emphasised too much.

The museum is exhibiting all 19 extant sections of the picture scroll for the first time in 10 years through Dec. 6.

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