A bullet hole pierced a picture of Jesus Christ in the modern picture of the Last Supper.
On a three-and-a-half-foot-wide canvas of Lorna May Wadsworth, a hole was discovered while the painting was being prepared for display at the Graves Gallery in Sheffield.
Earlier, the painting was displayed behind the altar of a Gloucestershire national church for a decade.
The bullet hole was later confirmed by ballistics experts to have come from an air rifle.
Wadsworth refashioned the biblical scene by modelling Jesus Christ on the Jamaican-born model Tafari Hinds.
The artist who drew this page was very sad to consider dragging the picture out of the exhibition. She said it was also important to her that whoever caused the damage did not ‘win’.
Some people who saw the location of the bullet hole had speculated that whether it represented the final wound Jesus Christ suffered from the Roman lance hanging on the cross. When asked whether there could be a possible racist motive behind the damage, Wadsworth commented: “I hope it was just mindless vandalism as the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.”
After being commissioned by a parishioner in Gloucestershire, the East London-based artist began work on the painting in 2008. She had previously described the significance of The Last Supper as one of “love and betrayal”, which are “part of the human experience”.
The Graves Gallery is hosting a retrospective of Wadsworth’s work titled GAZE in her home town of Sheffield.
Also on display will be her portrait of David Blunkett, which usually hangs in Portcullis House, as well as those of Tony Blair, David Tennant, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.