The weekly used for its front page an image by US-Cuban artist and political refugee Edel Rodriguez with the Trumpian slogan “America first” next to it.
“On our cover the American president beheads the symbol which has welcomed migrants and refugees to the United States since 1886, and with democracy and freedom,” Spiegel's chief editor Klaus Brinkbaeumer told German news agency DPA.
The image, which shows an orange facefeatureless save for a wide-open mouth, was seized upon for discussion by other media outlets in Germany and beyond.
— Edel Rodriguez (@edelstudio) February 3, 2017
Bild tabloid saw a direct parallel with Mohammed Emwazi, the British national known by the pseudonym “Jihadi John”, who was seen in several videos showing the beheading of Islamic State hostages.
Speaking to Bild, the vice-president of the European Parliament, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff of Germany's liberal Free Democrats, slammed the image as being in “bad taste” and one which “plays on the lives of terror victims in a very nasty manner.”
Liberal conservative broadsheet Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for its part warned that if the media demonised Trump that could play into his hands.
“The Spiegel cover is just what Trump needs – a distorted image of him which he can use to further his own distorted image of the press,” it said.
The paper added that such images could underpin Trump supporters' beliefs that the media are biased against him and “belong to the establishment, which he is allegedly up against.”
Conservative daily Die Welt, which like Bild belongs to the Axel Springer publishing group, criticised the Spiegel cover for “devaluing journalism.”
The image was widely shared on social media and also featured on posters waved by protesters attending a rally Saturday in Berlin to denounce Trump's temporary ban on migrants from seven mainly Muslim countries.
In November, following Trump's election win, Spiegel depicted him as a comet crashing to Earth.
Saturday's front cover image harks back to a similar, though less bloody, one used by the New York Daily News in December 2015.
That came after Trump first mooted a ban on Muslims and building a wall on the border with Mexico.
The Washington Post quoted Rodriguez on his rationale for the image.
“It's a beheading of democracy, a beheading of a sacred symbol,” Rodriguez said.
The artist said he wanted to draw a parallel between Islamist extremist ideas and Trump's radical policies.
“Both sides are extremists, so I'm just making a comparison between them,” he said.