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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 January 2006, 12:02 GMT
Police find stolen 36m figurine
Saliera by Benvenuto Cellini
The gold Saliera is 26 centimetres (10 inches) tall
Austrian police have recovered a $60m (33.9m) 16th Century figurine stolen in 2003 called Saliera, or salt cellar, after a suspect turned himself in.

Experts established it was an authentic work by Florentine master Benvenuto Cellini, Austria's Press Agency said.

It was found on Saturday, buried in a wooden case near Zwettl, a town about 55 miles north of Vienna, police said.

The suspect turned himself in on Friday after police released photos of him identifying him as a suspect.

Authorities have been trying to track down the 25.4cm (10 inch) gold Saliera since it was stolen from a showcase at Vienna's Art History Museum.

'Mona Lisa of sculptures'

The daily Salzburger Nachrichten reported that the man was identified after being photographed by a surveillance camera.

He had been spotted buying a mobile phone which he used to send a text message to police during a failed attempt last year to ransom the figurine.

The suspect turned himself in after acquaintances told him he looked like the person being sought.

The museum said at the time that Cellini's piece was the sculpture equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci's 16th Century masterpiece painting the Mona Lisa.

Break-in

Saliera depicts a male figure representing the sea and a female figure that represents the earth. A small vessel meant to hold salt is placed next to the male figure.

It was stolen after thieves smashed a window to get into the museum, police said. They then smashed a glass display case and took the sculpture.

The artwork was created between 1540 and 1543 on commission from King Francis I of France, commonly considered that nation's first Renaissance monarch.

It is 26 centimetres (10 inches) tall and is Cellini's only remaining authenticated gold work.


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