Photo/IllutrationPrince Genji grieves over the death of his lover, Yugao, as depicted in a newly found handscroll from the “Moriyasu Bon Genji Monogatari Emaki” series. (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A long-lost handscroll depicting the protagonist of The Tale of Genji grieving over a perished paramour has been found in France.

“Genji Monogatari,” considered to be the world's first novel, is believed to have been written in the mid-Heian Period (794-1185) by imperial courtesan Murasaki Shikibu.

The scroll, purchased by a French collector, is part of the “Moriyasu Bon Genji Monogatari Emaki” series painted in the early Edo Period (1603-1867) and depicts a scene from the Yugao chapter.

The painting, with lavish use of gold, shows Prince Genji grieving over Yugao, who was killed by a vengeful spirit of yet another former mistress of his, covering his face with his sleeve. It measures 35 by 132 centimeters.

Artists began to create “emaki” illustrated scrolls to portray scenes from The Tale of Genji from around the 12th century. Still, those featuring tragic scenes are rare.

Midori Sano, a professor of Japanese art history at Gakushuin University, confirmed the scroll's authenticity at the request of French art historian Estelle Bauer, who was contacted by the purchaser.

The Moriyasu version, compiled by Moriyasu Sugihara, has remained a mystery. Its scrolls, which are believed to have been painted by artists in local studios, have been housed in domestic and overseas museums and elsewhere.

According to Sano, most Genji scrolls depict specific scenes from the epic tale, while the Moriyasu version is believed to have been created in hopes of illustrating the entire novel.

Sano said the new discovery supports that theory.

One scroll from the series, designated by the central government as important cultural property, has been preserved at Ishiyamadera temple in Otsu, where Murasaki Shikibu started writing The Tale of Genji, according to legend.

Detailed information about the scroll will be provided in “Kokka,” an art magazine to be published on Jan. 20.

The Tale of Genji has been translated into several languages and adapted for the screen and stage.