I am a big fan of Benvenuto Cellini’s. Okay, maybe it sounds a little strange to say that, at this end of time: but the man’s personality is an endless fascination to me. He was an exquisitely talented painter and sculptor who worked for popes and kings, a contemporary and acquaintance of Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci; an incorrigibly opinionated boaster, duelist and brawler, an occasional jailbreaker (for that fast mouth of his got him in trouble more than once), and an indefatigable self-promoter and traveling PR show, with an ego the size of the planet. He wrought as he lived, hugely. And one of the most magnificent things he ever made was a salt-cellar, a saliera.
…it was oval in form, standing about two-thirds of a cubit, wrought of solid gold, and worked entirely with the chisel. While speaking of the model, I said before how I had represented Sea and Earth, seated, with their legs interlaced, as we observe in the case of firths and promontories; this attitude was therefore metaphorically appropriate. The Sea carried a trident in his right hand, and in his left I put a ship of delicate workmanship to hold the salt. Below him were his four sea-horses, fashioned like our horses from the head to the front hoofs; all the rest of their body, from the middle backwards, resembled a fish, and the tails of these creatures were agreeably inter-woven. Above this group the Sea sat throned in an attitude of pride and dignity; around him were many kinds of fishes and other creatures of the ocean. The water was represented with its waves, and enamelled in the appropriate colour. I had portrayed Earth under the form of a very handsome woman, holding her horn of plenty, entirely nude like the male figure; in her left hand I placed a little temple of Ionic architecture, most delicately wrought, which was meant to contain the pepper. Beneath her were the handsomest living creatures which the earth produces; and the rocks were partly enamelled, partly left in gold. The whole piece reposed upon a base of ebony, properly proportioned, but with a projecting cornice, upon which I introduced four golden figures in rather more than half-relief. They represented Night, Day, Twilight, and Dawn. I put, moreover, into the same frieze four other figures, similar in size, and intended for the four chief winds; these were executed, and in part enamelled, with the most exquisite refinement.
And for once he’s not bragging too much about the beauty of the piece. …So I was very, very annoyed when the Saliera was stolen in from its museum-home in Vienna in 2003.
But they got it back in January!! I had no idea.
And today the thief was sentenced. (Or in this case maybe “artnapper” is a better word: the guy decided he would return the piece after a ransom was paid.) He’s claiming the theft was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I’m not entirely convinced.
The funny thing is that he got caught by sending one SMS too many.
[tags]Cellini, saliera, salt cellar, saltcellar[/tags]