Composed in mid-13th-century Japan, the Murasaki Shikibu Nikki Ekotoba is a set of four emaki, or picture scrolls, based on the private diary of the noblewoman and court lady Murasaki Shikibu. The work is an exquisite example of yamato-style painting from the Heian period, providing insight into celebrations at the Heian Palace as well as relevant information on the shinden-zukuri architectural style. The relatively short illustrations, crafted in three stages, depict outdoor spaces and people engaging in typical aristocratic activities such as playing music, writing letters, and conversing.
The illustrations of the Murasaki Shikibu Nikki Ekotoba were achieved using the tsukuri-e technique, consisting of a first sketch with Indian ink, after which color is applied on the entire surface, and outlines are again enhanced with ink. Blurred colors, gold dust, and silver adorn the scrolls.
Due to the cultural changes that occurred in the Heian period, the depiction of characters in the Murasaki Shikibu Nikki Ekotoba is more realistic than in past decades. Accordingly, architecture and landscape were no longer used to convey people’s emotions, as was common in scrolls from the 12th century.
A widely employed technique in the Murasaki Shikibu Nikki Ekotoba is that of fukinuki yatai, a kind of downward perspective used for inner spaces, with diagonals conveying a sense of depth. This results in a plunging view of the tale’s characters.
The four extant scrolls, containing 24 scenes, correspond to about 15 percent of the original composition and are scattered among six different locations: Gotoh Museum, Tokyo National Museum, Fujita Art Museum, and three private collections. Each scroll is introduced by text and generally ends with a painting.