Tale of Genji Picture Scrolls and Beauty at the Heian Court
During the Heian period (794-1192), aristocratic culture centered on the court was at its height, and a standard of Japanese-style beauty was created. In particular, the second half of the Heian period witnessed the culmination of maki-e furniture with purely Japanese designs in the elegant milieu of court nobles. The National Treasure Tale of Genji Picture Scrolls that illustrate scenes from Lady Murasaki’s famous novel, the Tale of Genji, show what maki-e furniture actually looked like in use in the living spaces of the nobility.
In addition, Japanese-style calligraphy was perfected during the time of the three great calligraphers, Ono no Michikaze (894-966), Fujiwara no Sukemasa (944-998), and Fujiwara no Yukinari (972-1027). This was complemented by decorated paper, incorporating exquisite gold and silver leaf in various forms. Beautiful books and scrolls were produced using such paper. Their designs and ashide-e (decorative, cursive characters interwoven into the pictorial elements) on paper have features in common with those on surviving maki-e works, which demonstrate the perfection of Japanese design regardless of medium.