The Greatest Mother in the World

Title The Greatest Mother in the World
Creator A.E. Foringer
Date 1918
Format 20.5 x 27 in
Description A. E. Foringer’s poster “The Greatest Mother in the World” is one of the most famous and heavily studied images from WWI. The poster for the Red Cross appropriates Michelangelo’s celebrated sculpture “Pietà,” which depicts Mary cradling the body of Jesus after the crucifixion; except in Foringer’s case, Mary and Jesus are replaced with a nurse and heavily bandaged soldier on a stretcher. Perhaps the most striking departure from Michelangelo’s “Pietà” that immediately grabs the attention of the viewer are the proportions. The Red Cross nurse is colossal in comparison to the wounded soldier, a grown man that is held by the nurse as if an infant. Several psychiatrists and critics interpreted the diminutive size of the man as an representation of cultural anxieties surrounding a perceived decline in male dominance during the time period. The Madonna figure cloaked in white sits on a platform beside a large red cross, the recognizable emblem of the organization and the only color present in the image. Beneath her feet, the text “The GREATEST MOTHER in the WORLD” establishes the heavenly metaphor that Red Cross nurses embody the maternal spirit of Mary and that all soldiers are loved like children. The poster is predominantly promotional, as it does not specify any particular action the audience should take; nevertheless, the poster was so popular that it was reprinted again during WWII.
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