Condom portrait of Pope Benedict XVI slammed by church

A portrait of former pope Benedict XVI made from 17,000 coloured condoms is to go on display in a US art museum.

The artwork, entitled 'Eggs Benedict', depicts the former leader of the Roman Catholic church, who opposed the use of contraceptives, and is due to go on display in the Milwaukee Art Museum in November.

It has been criticised by Milwaukee's archbishop and is likely to stir up similar sentiment among Catholics across the world. The Catholic archdiocese of Milwaukee has a population of 673,000, more than a quarter of the population of the area which the archdiocese covers.

Niki Johnson, the artist who created the 7ft x 5ft piece, has defended it, saying it was inspired by comments made the former pope concerning the use of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV/Aids in Africa.

During his first visit to Africa as pope in 2009, Benedict XVI was reported as saying that Aids was a tragedy "that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".

In a statement on her website dated from March 2013, Johnson said that she felt compelled to act after hearing the former pope's comments both on condoms and also on other issues, such as homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

"Eggs Benedict exists because I believe it is my responsibility as an able bodied person living in our current cultural climate to incite further discussion about the direction our leaders point us in," said Johnson.

Benedict led the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics for almost eight years between 2005 and 2013, when he became the first pope in almost 600 years to resign.

In his weekly newsletter, Jerome E. Listecki, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Milwaukee, criticised the artwork as being insulting to Catholics but did not call for a boycott or picketing of the museum.

"An artist who claims his or her work is some great social commentary and a museum that accepts it, insults a religious leader of a church, whose charitable outreach through its missionaries and ministers has eased the pain of those who suffer throughout the world, must understand the rejection of this local action by the believers who themselves have been insulted," he said.

According to CNN, the museum director Dan Keegan, said he has only received complaints from around 12 peopple, while a spokeswoman said the museum had seen a record spike in membership sales in recent days.

The depiction of religious figures, and religion itself, in artwork has long caused controversy.

Portrayals of the founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, have been particularly prominent in recent years. Most notably, 12 people were killed after Islamist militants stormed the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January, which had previously published cartoons of the Prophet.

Last October, an art exhibition entitled 'Barbie: The Plastic Religion' was pulled from a Buenos Aires gallery after pressure from religious groups. The exhibition depicted various religious figures, including Jesus, Buddha and the Hindu goddess Kali, represented by plastic Barbie and Ken dolls.