Friday, September 3, 2010

Walking away with Cellini's Saliera

I just finished watching an episode of 'Art of the Heist', on Ovation TV. The series deals with famous art thefts, and this particular programme dealt with the theft of one of my favourite statues, Cellini's Saliera.

The Cellini Salt Cellar (in Vienna called the Saliera - Italian for salt cellar) is a part-enamelled gold table sculpture by Benvenuto Cellini. It was completed in 1543 for Francis I of France, from models that had been prepared many years earlier for Cardinal Ippolito d'Este. The Cellini Salt Cellar depicts a male figure(Neptune) representing the sea and a female figure (Ceres) that represents the earth. A small vessel meant to hold salt is placed next to the male figure.

Scaffolding had been erected on the exterior of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna’s famed art museum, to facilitate sandblasting of the facade. The scaffolding also provided a convenient way for an art thief to enter a second-story window at 4 a.m. on May 11, 2003. His break-in triggered a motion-sensing device, alerting a museum guard to get out of his chair and shut off the alarm without investigating further. The thief, who just happened to be a security-alarm salesman, smashed a glass case and removed its contents: a gold and ebony sculpture valued at approximately $64.5 million. The Saliera is the last surviving work in gold by Cellini — over the centuries, the others had been melted down.

It was feared that might be the fate of this sculpture as well, but Robert Mang seemed to know that the object was worth far more than its salvage value. He kept it for a couple of years under his bed; eventually he buried it in a lead box in a forest outside Vienna. Mang then sent a ransom note to the museum’s insurance company, demanding 10 million euros. A cat-and-mouse game ensued; Herr Mang used cell phones to send text messages to set up a clandestine meeting. He was eventually caught because an electronics store security camera recorded him buying a cell phone that was used by the thief to send text messages. The Cellini salt cellar was recovered, relatively unharmed, on January 21, 2006.

Source: Wikipedia