Lot 25
  • 25

A German Parcel-gilt silver Nef -form drinking cup, Georg Müllner, Nuremberg, 1609-29 

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
128,500 GBP
bidding is closed


on revolving wheels, each side embossed with a dolphin in wavelets, winged scaly monster forming the spout with sails, ladders, rigging and defenders

Catalogue Note

Nefs in precious metal have a long history, from the 13thcentury when possibly the earliest recorded example was presented to the shrine of St. Nicholas in thanks for the survival at sea of Louis IX (Saint Louis) and his wife Margaret of Provence. The French word Nef and that part of a church called the nave derive from the same Latin word for ship reflecting their early status which was both religious and secular.  As secular items they were even more important than the salt, being placed next to the prince at table and used to hold his napkin and eating implements.
While their exalted status continued, for example Louis XIV’s gold and enamelled nef continued to be reverently bowed to it in the late 17th century1, elsewhere they were adopted as real (and surprisingly efficient) vessels for drinking or pouring wine as part of the theatrical table sculpture of a prince or patrician family.  

Specialization, including the art of nef making was an important feature of goldsmith’s workshops in 17th century Germany.  Amongst Nuremberg masters of the time, Esaias zur Linden (working years 1609-1632) lot 24 is probably most associated with the skill leaving a record of over 60 nefs in literature and in public and private collections.  The specialization was passed between families and generations. Georg Müllner (working years 1624-1659) lot 25 whose surviving work apart from diamond-decorated cups consists entirely of nefs, married Ursula Wolf, widow of Tobias, a specialist nef maker2; and Conrad Meyer of Ulm (master 1666) lot 23 was apprenticed to Hans Ludwig Kienlin the elder as his first master3, a nef maker whose work is in the Ulm Museum and elsewhere including the collection of Julius Goldschmidt, the Franfurt dealer who helped sort out Mayer Carl Rothschild’s vast collection of German silver after his death in 18864

 1 `The Maître Hotel is directed to pause before the nef and bow “with all the reverence of a priest passing before the tabernacle”.’ Cyril G.E.Bunt, `The silver nef’, The Connoisseur, June 1943, pp 90-94

2Karin Tebbe et al. Nürnberger Goldschmidekunst  1541-1868, Nuremberg 2007, no. 597
3Adolf Häberle, Die Goldschmiede zu Ulm, Ulm, 1934, p.55

4Gerald Jasbar et al., Goldschmiedekunst in Ulm, Ulm, 1990, p. 56; Marc Rosenberg, Der Goldschmiede Merkzeichen, Frankfurt a.M., 1925, no. 4780