Edvard Munch: Madonna



Self portrait with bottle
Self portrait with bottle


Edward Munch is one of my favourite painters. 

Today I start a sequence of posts dedicated to him. I have chosen the “Madonna” paintings as the theme and created a collage of quoatations, statements, press releases, to highlight the various aspects of the theme, the artist and most of all, the paintings and lithographs presented.

Beyeler Foundation Media Release: Edvard Munch – Signs of Modern Art

Munch’s concern with loneliness, love and death is of incomparable urgency. His art reflects the crisis,
transience and eclipse of the individual in the Age of Industrialization. His oeuvre was interrupted by
existential caesuras, yet at the same time developed with inexorable logic.

Munch’s handling of picture support and painting materials was highly unconventional. He transcended the
traditional borderlines between media such as printmaking, drawing, photography, collage and painting.
This helped him to represent growth and decay, creation and destruction through a range of devices extending
from the dissolution of figures and their merger with the background to strange intersections with the picture
edge and scratched paint surfaces, all the way down to exposure of many works to the ravages of rain and
snow. By means of what he called this “acid test,” Munch not only integrated the factor of chance in his art
but made natural decomposition a component of the creative process. In his late work, he raised process
and temporality, as an actual, physical disappearance of matter, to a universal expression of transitoriness
in his material-based modernity. In this way, as early as the turn of the century, Munch opened the door
to the development of art in the advancing twentieth century.

Madonna, Oslo, Oil on canvas
Madonna, Oslo, Oil on canvas


The Press

When “The Madonna” was shown in Norway in 1895, Munch received this typical review from the daily Aftenposten:

“He seems either to be someone who’s hallucinating about art or he is some kind of joker who thinks the public a fool and makes a lie of both art and life. Even though these caricatures are laughable, the worst is that such disgusting lies are being perpetrated — which makes one quite ill and tempted to call the police.”



Madonnam Oslo, Lithograph
Madonna, Oslo, Lithograph


Robert Nelson, The Age

The keynote for Munch’s output is given in a colour lithograph called Madonna of 1895. It shows a naked young woman in an erotic swoon. She is represented in a disembodied graphic manner, with hollow eyes, abundant hair and writhing body. Around her form, a border surges with spermatozoa; and in the bottom left-hand corner, a hapless foetus cringes in sorrowful isolation in the plane of the woman’s thrusting hips.

Writers have observed that this fierce confounding of lust and death belongs to Munch’s epoch, to the prevailing fear of female sexuality and especially to Munch’s personal insecurities, his anxiety in yielding to blighted seduction, his failure in libidinous bliss and his brooding in psychological defeat.

But the deeper significance of this terrific image is not so much in the keen pangs that it expresses on a personal level: it’s the philosophical trumping of spiritual conviction expressed through the title, Madonna.

The word Madonna unmistakably alludes to the Virgin Mary, who was conceived with divine intervention and who, in turn, gave birth to Christ without Joseph’s sperm. For Munch as for Nietzsche and Freud and many intellectuals in Oslo, this story of immaculate conception was considered wishful thinking on a hysterically social scale.

The philosophical name given to the wholesale discredit of religious spirituality during the industrial period is “materialism”. At the risk of blasphemy, Munch proposes that there is no transcendence, no hallowed spirit, no universal being or redemptive belief. There is only an agonising zeal for joy, which is ultimately consumed through inescapable death.

Materialism is a tough philosophy – the fatalistic fruit of science – which few people relish; and art, in particular, has always found greater profit in promoting the earnest and authoritative delusions that have proliferated from animism to Jung. But for Munch as an artist, the brave new recognition of material causes throughout nature and behaviour brought new problems, because all artists are spiritualists at heart and Munch, in particular, talked of nothing so much as the soul and the heart.


Madonna, Hamburg, Oil on canvas
Madonna, Hamburg, Oil on canvas




Alluring and inviting, disturbing and threatening, Munch’s Madonna is above all mysterious. This erotic nude appears to float in a dreamlike space, with swirling strokes of deep black almost enveloping her. An odd-looking, small fetuslike figure or just-born infant hovers at the lower left with crossed skeletal arms and huge frightened eyes. Forms resembling sperm pervade the surrounding border of this print. Little about the Madonna seems to conform to her holy title, save for a narrow dark gold band atop her head. This haunting apparition reflects Munch’s alliance with Symbolist artists and writers.

Woman, in varying roles from mother-protector to sexual partner to devouring vampire and harbinger of death, serves as the chief protagonist in a series of paintings and corresponding prints about love, anxiety, and death that Munch grouped together under enigmatic headings. Madonna was first executed as a black-and-white lithograph in 1895. During the next seven years, Munch hand-colored several impressions. Finally, the image was revised in 1902, using additional lithographic stones for color and a woodblock for the textured blue sky. Self-trained in printmaking, Munch often used its mediums in experimental ways, such as the unusual composition of woodcut and lithography seen here.

Publication excerpt
The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 46Publication excerpt
The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 46


Madonna, Wurth Foundation, Lithograph
Madonna, Wurth Foundation, Lithograph




“My whole life has been spent walking by the side of a bottomless chasm … . Sometimes I try to leave my narrow path and join the swirling mainstream of life, but I always find myself drawn inexorably back towards the chasm’s edge, and there I shall walk until the day I finally fall into the abyss. For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from a deep feeling of anxiety which I have tried to express in my art. Without anxiety and illness, I would have been like a ship without a rudder.”  (E.M.)


  1. πολυ ωραιο post παναθηναιε

    η madonna ειναι φοβερος πινακας
    κι ο επιλογος με τα λογια του Munch με εντυπωσιασε

    εμπνευση στο χειλος της αβυσσου…

    εγω μονο το scream ηξερα του Munch


  2. Οπως καιη Ναταλια κι εγω μονο το Σκρημ γνωριζα που παρομοια εχει παραπανω απο μια εκδοχες. Πολυ ωραια εξπρεσσιονιστικη αναρτηση Παναθηναιε.

  3. @ναταλια: χαιρομαι που σου αρεσει, τον ειδα για πρωτη φορα το 1995 στο Αμβουργο και απο τοτε αρχισα να ψαχνω για περισσοτερα…
    θα επανελθω με δευτερο θεμα στη δημιουργια του Μυνχ

    @δεσποιναριον: ολοι απο την κραυγη ξεκινησαμε! ο δημιουργος αυτος ειναι τοσο πληθωρικος και ανεξαντλητος, που με εχει καταπληξει!

  4. Παναθήναιε,
    Μας έφτιαξες πάλι με τη Μαντόννα σου. Ομολογώ πως η ανάρτηση τονίζει την πρωτοπορία και την κάθετη ρήξη με τον σκοταδισμό της Χριστιανοσύνης.
    Με ξαφνιάζεις ευχάριστα, καθώς γνωρίζω πως είσαι λάτρης της βυζαντινής άποψης περι σεμνής Παρθένου Παναγίας.
    Πάντως, επειδή είσαι μέσα σ΄όλα, πέσμου πότε θα έρθεις στη Βόρεια Αμερική να μας οργανώσεις ταξίδια απο Ανατολή σε Δύση; Νας δείξεις με το δικό σου βλέμμα όλα τα ωραία του κόσμου;
    Παγωμένα χαιρετίσματα με ηλιαχτίδες

    • αγαπητο ιουστινακι, σου απαντω με καθυστερηση, ενεκα ταξιδι…
      ο δημιουργος ειναι μεγαλος, επειδη ακριβως βλεπει την Μαντοννα με τροπο που προβαλιε διαστασεις παραξενες, και αυτο οχι για να προσβαλει, αλλα για να τονισει το απεραντο μυστηριο που την περιβαλει

  5. Είναι ευχάριστο που κάποιος προτιμά να αρχίσει να μιλά για τον Munch με την ατταβιστική του Μαντόννα – και όχι με την, τετριμμένη πια, Κραυγή.

    Όπως μπορεί να γνωρίζεις ήδη, στη Σουηδία υπάρχει μια επισκέψιμη ιδιωτική συλλογή με πολλά σχετικά άγνωστα έργα του Munch.

    Πρόκειται για την Thielska Galleriet:


    Ο Thiel ήταν ένας Μαικήνας της εποχής, φίλος του Munch και κάτοχος όχι μόνο πολλών πινάκων του, αλλά και προσχεδίων, σκίτσων, λιθογραφιών κτλ. Υπάρχει και εκεί ένα αντίγραφο της Μαντόννα – όμοιο με αυτό του ιδρύματος Wuerth. Σώζεται επίσης η αλληλογραφία του Munch με τον προστάτη του.

    Για μένα, το ομορφότερο έκθεμα είναι το “På bron” (στη γέφυρα).

  6. @ουντανταγκ: καλως ηλθατε αγαπητε φιλε! για μενα ο Μυνχ ειναι πολυ μεγαλος καλλιτεχνης και η Μαντοννα μια σειρα εργων με εμπνευση και πολλαπλα αδιεξοδα…
    ευχαριστω για την πληροφορια περι Τηλ, ετοιμαζομαι για Οσλο το Μαρτιο και μετα βλεπουμε
    καλησπερα απο μιοα συννεφιασμενη Αθηνα!

  7. Καλώς σας βρίσκω! Συμφωνούμε. Για μένα οι πιο ριζοσπαστικές/εμπνευστικές Μαντόννες που ζωγραφίστηκαν είναι η του Munch και η Μαντόννα με το αυγό του Pierro della Francesca.
    Όσλο, τι τύχη, πολύ θα θελα να το ξαναδώ – αν και ο νορβηγικός Μάρτης είναι … γδάρτης. ΥΓ: Στο πάρκο με τα γλυπτά του Βίγκενλαντ οπωσδήποτε – μυστικιστική εμπειρία. Καλό σαββατοκύριακο.

  8. @ουντανταγκ: ευχαριστω πολυ για την πληροφορια περι Βιγκενλαντ θα τον επισκεφθω – ο καιρος δεν πειραζει, αρκει να καιει η εσωτερικη φλογα και να βρεθει και κανενα στεκι με καλο ψαρακι! καλο σ/κ και σε εσας!

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