Edvard Munch used the term «The frieze of life» to describe a number of his main motives that primarily were developed during the 1890s. The artist himself characterised the frieze as «a poem about love, anxiety and death »
Madonna, here in a version from 1894, is one of the most famous paintings from The frieze of life.
The painting shows a young woman with long, black hair down her shoulders. The deep set eyes are closed as she leans her head back. With her arms held behind her head and back, she exposes her naked body. The wavy lines that surround her, give the impression that she is floating or soaring. The artist has given her a red hat reminiscent of a halo. In Munch’s art the colour red often symbolize love, passion or agony
Loving woman was another title Munch used for this painting. The two titles emphasize the paintings inherent ambiguity: The woman represents both Madonna, mother of Jesus and a loving woman of flesh and blood.
Madonna has often been interpreted as representing the moment of conception. Love and procreation is here being elevated to a religious sphere at the beginning of a secular era.
At the same time, the woman’s marked cheekbones along with deep set eyes evoke associations of a cranium. In line with the symbolist art and literature of the period, Munch stresses the union between love and death, and he presents man as a powerless participant in the eternal cycle of life.