Collections and research

Edvard Munch in the National Museum

Madonna, 1894–95

Oil on canvas, 90.5 x 70.5 cm
NG.M.00841

© Nasjonalmuseet / Munch-museet / Munch-Ellingsen-gruppen / BONO 2010.
Foto: Jacques Lathion / Nasjonalmuseet

One of the most important and best known motifs of Munch’s oeuvre, Madonna was at the centre of his “Frieze of Life” series. The motif exists in several versions and originally bore the title Kvinne som elsker (Woman making Love). The painting was first displayed in a frame decorated with sperm cells and a foetus.

We are shown a woman whose half-closed eyes and posture seem to indicate love-making and the fateful moment of conception. Softly undulating lines form a kind of cyclical form around her reminiscent of an aura. Above her head hangs a “halo” – not golden, but red, like passion, pain and life. Both the halo and the picture’s title are religious allusions that form a surprising contrast to the motif’s evidently erotic aspect. At the same time, these religious elements emphasise the existential seriousness of the picture’s theme.

Concerning this motif, Munch himself said:

The pause when the entire world stopped in its tracks. Your face encompasses all the beauty of the earthly realm. Your lips, crimson red like the coming fruit, drift apart as if in pain. The smile of a corpse – Now life reaches out a hand to death. The link is forged that binds a thousand generations past to a thousand generations to come.

The painting was a gift from Olav Schou in 1909.

NDN