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 Saliera is the only surviving Benvenuto Cellini goldsmith’s work.
On May 11, 2003, the Saliera was stolen from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which was scaffolded for construction work. The alarm system triggered, but the security guards accepted a false alarm, so that the theft was only discovered by the cleaning staff the next morning. Criminalists found that the perpetrator (s) had had no more than 46 seconds to do so. They had entered through a window through the scaffolding.
The theft of the Saliera fascinated two Viennese artists, Ronald Kodritsch and Herwig Kopp, the media hype, the hysterical public, the questionable role of museum guards, the strange reactions of the museum director, Mr. Seipel. The situation inspired them to a daring artistic reaction: they made a confessional video and sent it to the museum director, the police and the press.
“Mr. Seipel. They made it very easy for us to steal the Saliera … We are the Patriots ”. And that in turn is Jan (Ronald Kodritsch) and Justin (Herwig Kopp). Two “vidiots” with a motorcycle helmet and tape recorder, dark voices and clear sentences.
A blackmail video shot according to dogma rules, accurate, razor-sharp, ironic and probably scarcer than you might think, scratching the “truth”: “On Friday, July 25th, you deposit 25 million euros, which is exactly half the amount insured – like you know and as we also know. ” The ORF culture department did not want to show the video, nor did ATV plus, allegedly the broadcaster without the delusion of a board of trustees. Why? Could anyone believe that this is real? And why would you believe that? And why does Austria have a concept art culture, and also a fun culture, but no humor culture? The Patriots do not answer these questions.
How does it come to such an incredible insurance value of 50 million euros, and in relation to the art market that the value of Saliera was determined by the theft? The salt keg has never been offered for sale anywhere. Who could have set up the scaffolding to get the insurance sum or whether it was a targeted theft by a collector remained a mystery for 3 years …
The real perpetrator, Robert Mang, was only caught in 2006, and he was 47 years old, the father of two children and owner of an alarm system company in Vienna-Neubau, and had initially kept the stolen goods under his bed. On January 21, 2006, Mang led the police to a wooded area near the village of Brand near Zwettl, where he had buried the Saliera in a box.
The recovered work of art has been on view at the Kunsthistorisches Museum again since then.
Press reactions (in German):