A late 19th century gilt silver Renaissance Revival nef or centerpiece in the form of a Ship
Probably Germany; ca. 1890 (aft. 1888)
Approximate size: 20.5 cm
Weight: 407 grams
A gilt silver two-masted naval ship on ornate openwork wheels with a separately attached anchor. This remarkable silverwork includes miniature sailors beneath its canopies and climbing its spiral-rope ladders. The sails, canopies and flag along the stern are chased with maritime emblems and decorative patterns while the hull features impressive scenic motifs worked in repoussé. Punched and stamped patterns trim the upper margin of the hull which is further surmounted by an eloquent openwork scroll forming its rail. Two hollow-formed canons feature on opposing sides of the hull.
The ship’s rudder features a French import hallmark, post 1892, and a silver quality rating mark of 800/1000 along with the “cresent and crown” emblems used in association with German silverwork produced from 1888 onward.
The present object, called a ‘nef,’ was a type of table ornament having its origins in the Middle Ages and forming a tradition that carried into the Renaissance. They were often used at banquets for holding spices, cutlery or napkins. The wheels provided the functional purpose of moving these items easily and efficiently along banqueting tables.
Fine examples of nefs are rare in the market, in particular, gilt silver versions.