Sex and death are ever present theses in the history of art, explored by artists across many centuries, linking eras, mediums and cultures from Albrecht Durer’s etchings to Marina Abramovic' performance pieces. And though the subject matter has been visualized for over 500 years, there are particular images that imbed themselves in our consciousness, becoming symbols of birth, of life and ultimately, of our demise. Munch’s Madonna persists as one of these icons; the woman’s expression of ecstasy, and the surrounding sperm border signifying the creation of life, belies the glare of the smaller, but arguably more powerful fetus figure at lower left. As Anna K. Norris writes in Ruminations on Munch, [the artist] “is playing with opposites here: fertility and virginity, lust and chastity, and in his own words, life and death”.
Munch was not one to dismiss a theme without intense examination. His ideology is expressed through one work then further evolved in another as he revisits a subject and revises his technique. His Madonna follows this pattern, coming to exist in paintings and prints, both with and without the sperm border, throughout the last decade of the 19th century. The present work is exemplary of his ability to heighten the impact of a lithograph by layering watercolor and ink, adding opaque and translucent blue, black and red to the already dynamic composition.
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