Madonna is one of Edvard Munch’s most important and well-known paintings, and was at the centre of his Frieze of Life series. Munch made several versions of the painting, whose original title was Kvinne som elsker (Woman Making Love) and whose original frame was adorned with sperm cells and a foetus.
The painting depicts a woman whose halfclosed eyes and posture seem to suggest lovemaking and the fateful moment of conception. Gently rippling lines form a kind of cyclical, aura-like shape around her. Above her head hangs a “halo” – not one of gold, but coloured red like love and pain. Both the halo and the title are religious allusions that create a surprising contrast to the painting’s manifestly erotic content, while also underscoring the existential gravitas of the theme.
Munch himself summarized Madonna as follows:
“The pause when the entire world stood still. Your face encompasses all earthly beauty. Your lips, crimson red like the coming fruit, drift apart as though in pain. The smile of a corpse – Now life reaches out its hand to death. The chain is forged that links a thousand bygone generations to the thousand generations to come.”
Text: Nina Denney Ness
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0