Famed 'La Saliera' sculpture back on display in Vienna

VIENNA (Reuters) - A Renaissance masterpiece sculpture stolen by a security expert and stashed in the woods for years goes on display in Vienna’s Art History Museum on Friday for the first time since its dramatic theft in 2003.

Benvenuto Cellini’s La Saliera aroused international interest when Robert Mang, a specialist in security-alarm systems, climbed scaffolding in the wee hours, smashed a window to get inside the museum and grabbed the 16th-century piece.

Outwitting high-tech motion sensors and around-the-clock guards, he buried the rare sculpture in a lead box in woods outside of the Austrian capital, sending a trident from the piece as evidence he had it and demanding a ransom.

Mang turned himself in after security camera footage of the suspect became public. He went to prison for the crime.

The heist of the delicately carved, 26-cm (10-inch)-high work was one of the most audacious in Europe for years.

“Friday will be the reopening of the Kunstkammer and the Saliera will be on permanent display for the first time since its recovery” in 2006, a museum spokeswoman said.

Curators have dubbed the $60 million, gold-plated Saliera the “Mona Lisa of sculptures”. The royal saltcellar dominated by gold-plated images of Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, and Neptune, the god of the sea, was sculpted between 1540 and 1543 on commission from Francis I of France.

‘La Saliera’ will be displayed in the renovated Kunstkammer, which has been closed to the public for 10 years. It is considered to be the most precious item of the collection as the only fully authenticated work in gold by Cellini.

The Kunstkammer will exhibit around 2,160 objects, mostly rare, bizarre and precious items collected by emperors from the Middle Ages to the 19th century.

Reporting By Derek Brooks