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Cellini piece stolen in Vienna heist

Vienna, May 12: Climbing the scaffolding and smashing a window early yesterday, thieves slipped into Vienna’s Art History Museum and — despite high-tech motion sensors and round-the-clock guards — disappeared with a 16th-century gold-plated masterpiece sculpted by Benvenuto Cellini.

The stealthy and stunning heist was one of the biggest art thefts in Europe in recent years. The intricate, 10-inch-high sculpture, known as the Saliera, or salt cellar, is valued at about $57 million.

It was commissioned from Cellini — an outlaw himself and one of the Italian Renaissance’s most ingenious goldsmiths — in the 1540s by King Francois I of France. Museum director Wilfried Seipel called the piece the “Mona Lisa of sculptures”.

Police said one or more thieves crawled through a broken second-floor window at 4 am, shattered the heavy-glass display case around the Saliera, grabbed the sculpture and fled.

The museum’s alarms did go off, and all the artwork was protected by motion sensors and video cameras. The theft was discovered at 8.20 am when a museum porter noticed the damage. Police are investigating whether the robbery is an inside job.

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