Banker Mxolisi Mbetse has formally offered $2.5-million for a painting, Last Supper, depicting former president Nelson Mandela as Jesus Christ.

Artist Dean Simon, appointed in 1988 as an official war artist, was commissioned to produce the piece by a Johannesburg businessman who wants to remain anonymous.

It is a contemporary version of, arguably, one of the most recognisable images in the world – Leonardo Da Vinci’s fresco, The Last Supper. The original 1498 fresco depicts Jesus and his disciples seated around a table on the eve of his betrayal by Judas.

The local, secular version of the image replaces the figures from the New Testament with 12 figures identified as iconic individuals in the fight against inequality and oppression who dedicated their lives to the abolition of apartheid. The 13th figure, Judas, remains anonymous in the contemporary painting and is signified by a white shape – supposedly allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions about who it could be.

Tuesday 21 June 2011 12:05

Other figures include Mangaliso Sobukwe and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia arranged around a Christ figure, Mandela

Suzie Copperthwaite, press officer for the work, said the selection of individuals in the painting was a collaborative and informed process that included Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Republic of Congo, Kwame Nkrumah, who helped Ghana gain independence, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Steve Biko, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks, recognised as “the mother of the modern day civil rights movement” in the US.

Other figures include Mangaliso Sobukwe and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia arranged around a Christ figure, Mandela.

Fifty prints have been created from the original painting and have been signed by the artist and Mandela. A portion of the proceeds generated from the sale of the prints will be donated to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

Stephan Welz, fine art auctioneer, commented jokingly that it certainly is not heavenly in art terms.