A new painting that depicts the body of Nelson Mandela undergoing an autopsy has sparked outrage from the country's ruling party.

The African National Congress said the painting violates the former South African president's dignity and is an act of witchcraft.

The painting is a modern take on Rembrandt's 17th century masterpiece "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp." It shows Mr. Mandela lying on a table with his body being cut open as prominent leaders crowd around.

The autopsy is being performed by a renowned child AIDS activist who died at age 12.  The spectators include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Presidents F.W. de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki, and current politicians.

The artist, Yiull Damaso, says his aim is to make South Africa confront a subject that remains almost taboo, the future death of Mr. Mandela.

He told Britain's Guardian newspaper that the politicians in the painting are trying to find out what makes Mr. Mandela a great man by performing the autopsy on him.  He said the AIDS activist in the painting is trying to show South Africa's current leaders that Mr. Mandela is just a man and is trying to encourage them to get on with building the country.

The African National Congress also criticized South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper for publishing a picture of the painting, describing it as "gutter journalism" and "soulless sensationalism."

Mr. Mandela turns 92 later this month.  The Mandela Foundation has not commented on the painting.