This salt cellar, made in the early 1540s for King Francis I of France by Benvenuto Cellini (1500 – 1571) and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, changed my world substantially.
When I was a teenager I read Cellini’s autobiography and the salt cellar was shown in all of the books on the artist as one of his greatest masterpieces. After knowing the object indirectly over a period of time, I first saw it in 1997 when, aged 18, I travelled on an InterRail pass around Europe. Vienna was my first stop, especially to see Cellini’s work.
I think it was the utter elegance of the object that first attracted me to it. Also, the personality of the artist who made it especially appealed to me as a young boy growing up in Rome. When I think of Cellini and his salt cellar I think of my mother, who first introduced me to Cellini and gave me his autobiography after reading it herself, and I also think of my friend Alessandro, with whom I travelled to Vienna.
I think it was the first time I knew an object from photographs and looked forward to seeing it in the flesh. The encounter with the actual object provoked an aesthetic pleasure which was by far superior to my knowing the work through photographs. The visit to Vienna taught me about the importance of facing an object in real life and inspired me to pursue a career working closely with works of art.
I have not been to Vienna for more than 10 years. In that time, the salt cellar was stolen; it disappeared for almost three years. We all thought the object had been destroyed and for a while I assumed I would never see it again. Since it was found and returned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum I have not been back to Vienna. But I look forward to seeing it again. I am sure it will still have the same effect on me as when I first saw it.