Sunday, 17 December 2017

Sunday 17th December: Madonna

Okay, the penultimate Sunday before Christmas, and only a week before Christmas Eve: I think I need a Sunday to relax.  I've seen Star Wars (which I predictably loved) (I was wearing my Princess Leia knitted hat and my AT-AT poodle skirt) (I regret nothing) and my cold has decided to freshen up again due to the racing around yesterday, so today I am going to take it easy and snooze.  First of all, here is today's blogvent image...

Madonna (1894) Edvard Munch
I'm not a big fan of Munch, not specifically out of taste but our paths don't really cross very often, however when I was searching for images of the Virgin Mary this came up and I immediately recognised it.  Together with The Scream, this is probably what people know him for, mainly because a copy got pinched a couple of times years ago.  To be stolen twice is definitely working in her favour, if you ask me...

1895-1902 lithograph including frame design
There are quite a few versions of this unusual portrayal of the Virgin Mary (if by 'Madonna' that is specifically who we mean).  For starters, she turned up without her vest on, which is not how the Bible worked when I was younger and also can't be advisable in Norway, not even in the summer.  Maybe she can't afford a vest - the tax in Scandinavia is so punishing.  Anyway, you can imagine it raised a few eyebrows, and the subject matter was disputed , not least because Munch gave his many versions alternate titles like 'Loving Woman'.  Some argue that it is a picture of a tempting and debauched woman who is to be adored.  Nevertheless, she does appear to have a halo and in the above lithograph, the border (which reflected an actual frame of one of the versions, now lost) there is a little fetal figure and some elongated sperm. Well, that's one way of showing the annunciation...

Dagny Juel-Przybyszewska
Obviously, because of who I am,  I'm fascinated by the model, and it's hardly surprising as Dagny Juel-Przybyszewska is an awesome woman with a bit of a tragic end.  Model and lover to Munch, her private life overshadowed her work as a writer (t'uh, typical).  She also had a relationship with Norwegian writer August Strindberg before marrying Polish writer Stanislaw Przybyszewski, who allegedly had her shot in 1901, either because she was seeing other men or because he wanted to marry one of the two other women he was seeing.  Flipping heck!

Ashes (1894)
I think the character and perceptions of Dagny are key to Madonna: Dagny modelled for Munch from around 1890 when she and her sister moved to Oslo (then called 'Christiana' - Oslo, not her sister) and Dagny threw herself into the artistic, bohemian lifestyle of the city.  She travelled to Berlin to continue her studies and possibly to continue seeing Munch, and appeared in his paintings of this period including Ashes and Jealousy. Whilst in Berlin, Dagny had other relationships, including one with Przybyszewski, who left his mistress, Martha, and their children to marry Dagny.  When Munch painted Dagny as Madonna she was pregnant with her first child, which may have been what prompted the subject matter.

Dagny Juel Przybyszewska
I may well pay a bit more attention to Munch now because I rather like Dagny and her story - it has resonance with models such as Elizabeth Siddal - women whose personal lives overwhelm their contribution to the arts.  Also, as Martha killed herself, I immediately thought of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, another writer whose life is compared back to Siddal. There are a couple of biographies about Dagny, and her poetry seems to be available, although I'm not sure if all or some have been translated into English.  I think it is very telling that while in a relationship with the writer August Strindberg, his friends referred to her as 'Aspasia', a classical Greek woman whose home was a centre for intellectual life but who was also suspected to be a prostitute.  That sums up how women who attempted to play by the same rules as the men in their lives were treated.

See you tomorrow...


  1. I am very ambivalent about Munch. I wish he drew better but I do find his colour at times to be extraordinarily expressive. That picture of his sister ill in bed is really haunting for example.
    Also I wish Oslo was still called Christiana, but then I wish Istanbul was still called Byzantium..

  2. What a story! It makes the lives of Lizzie Siddal, Jane Morris etc seem quite straightforward!


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx