Salt Cellar
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This tiny salt cellar is a story of twisted romance, stolen art, and buried treasure.

As the only solid gold sculpture that Cellini ever made, the nude lady enjoying some self-exploration represents Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, and she’s lounging next to her very own temple that stores peppercorns. The hunky gent sitting across from her represents Neptune, the god of the ocean, and he’s chilling with a boat that holds salt. Cellini made this salt cellar for King Francis I of France between 1540 and 1543 while he was living in Paris.

The cellar was a gift to Francis from King Charles IX of Sweden. Charles needed to make an apology present because couldn’t be bothered to show up to his own wedding to Elisabeth of France and Francis stood in for him as one does. Apparently in the 1500s showing up to your own wedding was more of a suggestion than an obligation.

Somehow this little sculpture found its way to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which was ironically the most dangerous place for it to wind up. In May 2003, a 50 year old security alarm specialist named Robert Mang climbed up a scaffolding on the outside of the building, broke a second floor window, and stole the 60 million dollar salt cellar. While Mang waited for the 12 million dollar ransom that he politely requested from the Kunsthistorisches insurance company, the salt cellar stayed safely stashed underneath Mang’s bed… for two years. It seems like that didn’t work out so well so Mang moved the cellar into a lead box and buried it in the forest.

Come January 2006 and Mang’s plan fell apart. He’d used several cell phones to send ransom texts to the police, but one day Mang decided to treat himself to a new cell phone. Police were able to trace the text to the cell phone, trace the cell phone to the store it was purchased from, and then get a picture of Mr. Mang from the store’s security cameras. When the police made the picture public, Robert Mang did the honorable thing and turned himself in. Huzzah for the happy ending!

The salt cellar was a little worse for wear after its adventure under the bed and in the box, but the Kunsthistorisches Museum decided not to have the sculpture restored, saying that all the scratches were now just part of the piece’s story.



  1. Bernstein, Richard. "For Stolen Saltcellar, A Cellphone Is Golden." The New York Times, January 26, 2006. Accessed December 1, 2017.
  2. "Salt Cellar by Benvenuto Cellini." Web Gallery of Art. Accessed December 01, 2017.
  3. "Sogenannte Saliera." Kunsthistorisches Museum. Accessed December 01, 2017.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Cellini Salt Cellar

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 cellar is the only remaining work of precious metal which can be reliably attributed to Cellini. It was created in the Mannerist style of the late Renaissance and allegorically portrays Terra e Mare (Land and Sea). In Cellini's description, the sea was represented by a male figure reclining beside a ship for holding the salt; the earth he "fashioned like a woman" and placed a temple near her to serve as a receptacle for pepper. The salt cellar is made of ivory, rolled gold, and vitreous enamel. The gold is not cast in a mould but hammered by hand into its delicate shape. It stands about 26 cm tall. The base is about 33.5 cm wide and features bearings to roll it around.

It came into the possession of the Habsburgs as a gift by Charles IX of France to Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol, who had acted as a proxy for Charles in his wedding to Elisabeth of Austria. It was originally part of the Habsburg art collection at Castle Ambras, but was transferred to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna during the 19th century.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Cellini Salt Cellar.