The United National International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has lent an X-ray fluorescence unit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, so that conservators there can investigate a gold saliera (salt cellar) made by Benvenuto Cellini. The saliera was stolen from the museum in 2003 after a thief climbed up some scaffolding outside the museum and broke into an unalarmed glass case. After demanding a â¬5m ransom, the thief was finally caught in November 2006 and the saliera was recovered from its hiding place in some woodland outside Vienna.
Despite its burial, the salt cellar had suffered no major damage since being stolen from the museum, although some of the enamel decoration was loose and flaking. "The theft damaged the Saliera but fortunately not so much as we were expecting," said Dr Martina Griesser, the head of the museum's Conservation Science department. Using the portable XRF machine to determine the composition of the flaking enamel on the saliera will help conservators decide how best to stabilise it. Conservation scientist Dr Katharina Uhlir will also use the machine to investigate the composition of the gold in the saliera.
The IAEA has lent the XRF equipment to the Kunsthistorisches Museum free of charge, and hopes to make it available to other countries for similar projects in future. The agency is also working with conservators, scientists and law enforcement officials from several countries, in a project to use nuclear analytical techniques for authenticating historic artefacts and artworks.
In Vienna's art world, nuclear science feeds a "happy end" -- IAEA website
IAEA to curb illegal art trafficking -- IAEA website