"Vanitas" by Christian Boltanski

Salzburg Art Project 2009


by Christian Boltanski

Würth Collection, Inv. 15613


Assuming particular importance within the programme of sculpture projects initiated by

the Salzburg Foundation, the Eighth Salzburg Art Project is inviting visitors to an

historical site, which had previously lain inaccessible prior to the current restoration

work - undertaken especially for this event. In the choir crypt of the late Romanesque

Salzburg Cathedral, the French artist Christian Boltanski is staging a shadow play

entitled "Vanitas" which perfectly matches this unique setting. Here Boltanski has

successfully forged a vision of ephemerality, entirely consistent with the ambience of

the location: Through his artistic intervention, Christian Boltanski has transformed

this historical space into a site of mystery, which unites the spirituality of his art with the

sacred churchly aura.


Christian Boltanki´s installation "Vanitas" comprises two parts, one sculptural, the

other acoustic. On one wall the artist has mounted twelve delicately slender,

puppet-like figures cut from sheet metal, which are illuminated by candles. In the

flickering light they cast shadows onto the wall, and the apse is filled with the revolving

projection of the shadowy angel of death. At the same time, the sound of a looped

recording of the automatic speaking-clock echoes through the room. The artist´s

shadow play is a modern "Danse Macabre", with time passing audibly as one observes

it: "I want time to be heard and sensed", states Christian Boltanski in explanation of his

work. "People are capable of many things, but they cannot turn back the flow of time.

God is the Lord of time."


Built by Archbishop Konrad III (1181 - 1200), the choir crypt was filled in the after the fire of

1598 and the subsequent demolition of the Late Romanesque cathedral. It was

uncovered during the Cathedral excavations undertaken from 1956 - 1958, but not until

the launch of the Salzburg Art Project featuring Christian Boltanski´s installation, has

the crypt now been transformed into a public space and opened to visitors.


Christian Boltanski (*1944) lives and works in Malakoff, on the outskirt of Paris. He

has been represented at the documenta in Kassel three times, and in 2006 garnered

the prestigious Praemium Imperiale arts award for sculpture.


The restoration of the crypt and the presentation of the art project are the result of a

joint initiative by the Cathedral custos Balthasar Sieberer and the Salzburg

Foundation. The art project was funded by the Salzburg Foundation, and the crypt´s

restoration was facilitated by the Archiepiscopal Salzburg Cathedral Fund with the

support of the Propter Homines Foundation in Lichtenstein, the Federal Office for the

Protection of Monuments, the Federal Ministry for Education, Art and Culture, the

Federal State of Salzburg, and the City of Salzburg.


This artwork is owned by the Würth Group

and was acquired in 2013.

It has been provided to the public and the City of Salzburg on loan.

In cooperation with the Salzburg Foundation 2013