The Greatest Mother in the World

Accession Number

The Greatest Mother in the World

Alonzo Foringer

Object Creation Date
circa 1917

Medium & Support
color lithograph on paper

45 11/16 x 29 15/16 in. (116 x 76 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Mr. Maurice F. Lyons

Label copy
The great "mother-nurse" figure embracing a tiny wounded soldier on a stretcher--her "baby"--is a conception which, though fanciful and contrived to us today, was one of the most powerful poster images used by the American Red Cross during the Great War. It appeared in no less than four separate wartime versions and was such a strong statement that the Red Cross continued to use it after the War in its 1919 fund drive. Indeed, Adolf Triedler, another American designer of posters for the Great War, did not hesitate to rework Foringer's design into a horizontal variant for a different Red Cross campaign. The figure of the mother-nurse owes much to Michelangelo's Mary of the Vatican Pieta, though her young face and sturdy body are strictly American. Likewise, her wounded soldier/baby son has associations with Christ. Undoubtedly, the association of that "Greatest Mother" with this one embracing her wounded "son" became symbolic and surrogate for all mothers of sons overseas, and this obviously elicited a strong emotional response in the minds and hearts of the American public of 1918. Though we may agree with Albert Gallatin that the poster is an inferior design, we would probably not go as far as he did in 1919 and call it "absurd". For us today, it still maintains its integrity as a sincerely felt visual image, and, as such, we can perhaps appreciate its appeal and impact in its own time.

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area
Modern and Contemporary

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Text-based Art
World War I
modern and contemporary art

9 Related Resources

Religion in the Americas
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
World War I Posters from the U.S.
(Part of 5 Learning Collections)
World War I and Society
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
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(Part of 9 Learning Collections)
Women and the Trades
(Part of: Resources Made by Isabel Engel)

& Author Notes

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