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Artwork of the Week: May 3

Alonzo Earl Foringer, “The Greatest Mother in the World,” 1917.

Alonzo Earl Foringer (1878-1948),

The Greatest Mother in the World, c.1917, poster, 31 5/8 × 23 7/8 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 2017.

On Wednesday of this week, May 6, we celebrate National Nurses Day. We pause to give sincere thanks and appreciation to so many in the medical field who tirelessly give of their time and service to help others. Particularly at this time of battling COVID-19, we are even more attuned to the sacrifices made by so many of our health care professionals, who are frequently compared to modern-day superheroes. American artist Alonzo Foringer, who created posters during World War I, selected more heavenly comparisons when considering the actions of nurses. In a powerful reference to Western art tradition, Foringer sets his famous Red Cross poster as a modern Pietà—the traditional subject of Mary cradling Christ after his death on the cross. Here, Mary is transformed into an angelic nurse who holds a wounded soldier on a stretcher in her massive arms. By associating the compassion of battlefield nurses with the boundless love of a mother, and even more with the sacred love between Mary and her divine Son, the artist portrays her healing service as a process of sanctification.