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  • Place of origin:

    Regensburg (assayed)

  • Date:

    ca.1610 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Raised, cast, chased silver and gilded silver (silver-gilt) with cold-enamel

  • Credit Line:

    The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:GILBERT.67:1, 2-2008

  • Gallery location:

    Gold, Silver and Mosaics, Room 70, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Galleries, case 6 []

Decorated vessels in the form of a ship, known as nefs, date back to medieval France. They could be both ornamental and functional. Though this example was probably intended for display, the spout protruding from the bow suggests it could have been used as a ewer. The upper section lifts off the hull to reveal a lizard in the bowl.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Schatzkammer is one of the few collections of its kind formed in the late 20th century. The Schatzkammer, or treasury, was a new concept in the 16th century. It referred to a special chamber in which the most precious artefacts of a princely collection were housed. Gold and jewelled objects were mounted alongside exotic natural curiosities, including rock crystal, nautilus shells and ostrich eggs. Together they demonstrated not only the wonders of nature and the technical achievements of the artist, but also the intellect and culture of the patron.

Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde formed one of the world's great decorative art collections, including silver, mosaics, enamelled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. Arthur Gilbert donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996.

Physical description

The nef is modelled in the form of a two-masted ship with cold-enamelled figures and cannon on deck and other figures climbing the rigging and mainmast. On the poop deck is a group of figures dining at a table inside the tiled roofed cabin, on which sits a monkey. The oval base is chased with gardoons and naturalistic foliage with three applied lizards, and the stem is formed as a tree trunk with an engraved foliage calyx at the top. The repoussé hull of the ship is chased with cartouches of sea monsters and with scrolls and fruit on a matted ground. The spout of the nef issues from an applied mask at the bow. Another lizard is applied to the interior of the hull. The mizzenmast has two furled sails, the mainsail is engraved with a later coat of arms, and a flag is flying from the top of the mainmast.

Place of Origin

Regensburg (assayed)


ca.1610 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Raised, cast, chased silver and gilded silver (silver-gilt) with cold-enamel

Marks and inscriptions

UNidentified maker's mark


Height: 46.3 cm, Height: 17.5 cm of hull, Width: 26 cm, Depth: 12.2 cm, Width: 12 cm base, Depth: 10 cm base, Weight: 1300 g

Object history note

"The Gilbert nef is an unusually fine example of the form for its comparatively late date. Although considerably smaller than the Schlusselfelder Nef [Nuremberg, 1502-3; Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, inv. no.HG2146; ...] it is in the same tradition in its basic form and function. Both are constructed with numerous figures on deck [...] More significantly, both may ostensibly function as a ewer or drinking vessel when the superstructure has been removed.[...] In the case of the Gilbert nef, the spout or siphon projecting from the figurehead is so constructed that its point of intake is located at the deepest part of the bowl, thus allowing the vessel to be drunk from without lifting or tipping it. The lizards around the foot and inside the bowl are reminiscent of the technique of casting animals and foliage from life developed by Wenzel Jamnitzer and also used during the late sixteenth century by Nuremberg makers such as Jacob Frohlich." (Schroder, 1988)

Provenance: Sale, Sotheby's, Geneva, lot 157, November 12, 1985.

Historical context note

The word 'nef', meaning ship is taken from the old French and refers to a particular type of object that evolved in France during the Middle Ages.

Descriptive line

Silver, parcel-gilt and cold enamel, Regensburg, ca.1610, mark: AP.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Schroder, Timothy The Gilbert Collection of Gold and Silver. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988, cat. no. 143, pp.530-33. ISBN.0875871445
Schroder, Timothy, ed. The Gilbert Collection at the V&A. London (V&A Publishing) 2009, p. 37, pl. 22. ISBN9781851775934

Labels and date

(Gallery 70, case 6)
16. Nef (ship)
About 1610
Miniature ships, known as nefs, date back to
medieval France. The spout protruding from
the ship’s bow suggests it might have been
used as a ewer, but it could have equally been
used as an impressive display piece. The upper
section lifts off the hull to reveal a remarkably
life-like lizard in the bowl.
Regensburg, Germany; maker’s mark AP
Gilded silver, silver and ‘cold enamel’ (paint resembling enamel)
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.67:1, 2-2008 [16/11/2016]

Production Note

Maker's mark AP


Silver; Gold; Paint; Enamel


Raising; Casting; Chasing; Gilding; Cold-enamelling

Subjects depicted

Lizard; Ship


Food vessels & Tableware; Metalwork


Metalwork Collection

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