CELLINI, Benvenuto
(b. 1500, Firenze, d. 1571, Firenze)

Salt Cellar

1540-44
Gold, enamel and ebony, 26 x 33,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Benvenuto Cellini was Goldsmith to François I of France from 1537 to 1545. He completed here his first sculpture, the Salt Cellar. He imparted the monumentality of sculpture to a goldsmith's design. The two langorous somatic types reflect the plethora of stucco work (polished like marble to imitate Roman techniques) produced by Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio at Fontainebleau. The style of the School of Fontainebleau and Italian Maniera is characterized by an elongation and abstraction of the poised rather than moving body, creating an unnatural elegance and sophistication.

The cellar's iconography reads like a programme for sculpture. The goddess of earth, holding her breast and a cornucopia to signify her nutritive powers, is flanked by a miniature Ionic temple for pepper corns. The god of the sea (Neptune), with trident and shell chariot, is flanked by a boat for salt. The elaborate ebony base is decorated with cartouches of reclining figures. They represent the four times of day alternating with four winds of seasons.

Practical yet capricious, the cellar is a Mannerist masterpiece. It was stolen from the museum in May 2003 and recovered by police in January 2006.




© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.