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The Cellini Salt Cellar is one of the most striking and celebrated works of Mannerist design and one of the world’s greatest Renaissance artefacts

David Goran

The Cellini Salt Cellar is one of the world’s greatest Renaissance artifacts, a part-enamelled gold table sculpture created by the Florentine genius Benvenuto Cellini for Francis I of France, between 1540 and 1543. The saltcellar was created in the Mannerist style of the late Renaissance and shows an allegory of the Earth and the interplay of land and sea.

A male figure (Neptune, the god of the sea, is reclining beside a ship supported by fish, a vessel for holding the salt), represents the sea, and the female figure, (the Roman goddess, Tellus or Terra), represents the earth. Beside Tellus is a miniature temple where peppercorns were to be stored.

Made in 1543, for Francis I of France by Benvenuto Cellini ( 1500-1571). Photo Credit

Made in 1543, for Francis I of France by Benvenuto Cellini ( 1500-1571). Photo Credit

 

The legs of the two figures are intertwined, the way the artist imagined the limbs of land and sea are conjoined. Photo Credit

The legs of the two figures are intertwined, the way the artist imagined the limbs of land and sea are conjoined. Photo Credit

 

A temple-shaped box for pepper is placed next to the female figure. Photo Credit

A temple-shaped box for pepper is placed next to the female figure. Photo Credit

 

A miniature ship for holding salt is next to the male figure. Photo Credit

A miniature ship for holding salt is next to the male figure. Photo Credit

 

Neptune, god of the sea. Photo Credit

Neptune, god of the sea. Photo Credit

The Saliera is the only work of gold which can be attributed to Cellini with certainty and is sometimes referred to as the “Mona Lisa of Sculpture”. It was commissioned by François I during the artist’s stay in Paris in 1540-1543 and was subsequently given by Charles IX to Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol as a gift, who had acted as a proxy for Charles in his wedding to Elizabeth of Austria in 1570.

Measuring approximately 10 inches in height and 13 inches in width, the salt cellar is made of ivory, rolled gold (sculpted by hand), and vitreous enamel. The base, about 33.5 cm wide, depicts the winds, the times of day and human activities.

It was created in the style of the late Renaissance, the Mannerist period. Photo Credit

 

Perhaps one of Cellini’s most famous works. Photo Credit

Perhaps one of Cellini’s most famous works. Photo Credit

 

Often called the ‘Mona Lisa of sculpture’. Photo Credit

Often called the ‘Mona Lisa of sculpture’. Photo Credit

 

The piece is now in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Photo Credit

The piece is now in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Photo Credit

The saltcellar has no sculptural counterpart and it is Cellini’s only surviving metalwork.

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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.

David Goran

David Goran is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News