The version owned by the Munch Museum of Oslo was stolen in 2004 but recovered two years later. Two other versions are owned by the National Gallery of Norway and the Kunsthalle Hamburg. Another one is owned by businessman Nelson Blitz, and one was bought in 1999 by Steven A. Cohen.
The lithographic print of the composition is distinguished by a decorative border depicting wriggling sperm, with a fetus-like figure in its bottom left corner. The 1893 version of the painting had a frame with similar decoration, but it was later removed and lost. The print also exists in a number of different versions.
Although it is a highly unusual representation, this painting might be of the Virgin Mary. Whether the painting is specifically intended as a representation of Mary is disputed. Munch used more than one title, including both "Loving Woman" and "Madonna". Munch is not famous for religious artwork and was not known as a Christian. The affinity to Mary might as well be intended nevertheless, as an emphasis on the beauty and perfection of his friend Dagny Juel-Przybyszewska, the model for the work, and an expression of his worship of her as an ideal of womanhood.
Werner Hofmann suggests that the painting is a "strange devotional picture glorifying decadent love. The cult of the strong woman who reduces man to subjection gives the figure of woman monumental proportions, but it also makes a demon of her." Sigrun Rafter, an art historian at the Oslo National Gallery suggests that Munch intended to represent the woman in the life-making act of intercourse, with the sanctity and sensuality of the union captured by Munch. The usual golden halo of Mary has been replaced with a red halo symbolizing the love and pain duality. The viewer's viewpoint is that of the man who is making love with her. Even in this unusual pose, she embodies some of the key elements of canonical representations of the Virgin: she has a quietness and a calm confidence about her. Her eyes are closed, expressing modesty, but she is simultaneously lit from above; her body is seen, in fact, twisting away from the light so as to catch less of it, even while she faces it with her eyes. These elements suggest aspects of conventional representations of the Annunciation. Robert Melville states that the image portrays "ecstasy and pain in the act of love". Commenting on the lithograph version, he says that the "decorative border composed of sperms trailing long wriggly filaments which meander round three sides of the image and end in a foetus-like pendant." Feminist critic Carol Duncan is inclined to interpret the figure as a femme fatale,
Other critics have also seen the portrayal of the woman as implicitly paradoxical. According to Peter Day, it is a potentially vampiric figure.