This November, Sotheby's will present a selection of silver and objects of Vertu in our Style sale. They include an original collection of spittoons, a series of silver and vermeil nefs of different sizes as well as a rare set of Roman micro-mosaic panels of butterflies engraved with a monogram that is probably that of Prince Borghese and his wife Adèle, née de La Rochefoucauld. Finally, several rock crystal and nautilus cups mounted in silver dating from the second half of the 19th century bring a naturalist side to this sale.
Sotheby's interviewed Pierre Sauvage, the interior designer and owner of the famous Parisian houseware shop, Casa Lopez. He selected several works that will be presented in our upcoming Style sale to decorate tables and create a pastoral atmosphere and scenography, reflecting the French “art de vivre”.
With the earliest examples dating from the 13th century, the nef is a silver or gold table ornament in the shape of a ship, sometimes decorated with precious stones or enamels. Opening from the bridge, its purpose was to hold the "prince's cutlery" and it followed its owner to each meal. Thus, spices, napkins, cutlery and sometimes "poison-tasters" were found there. The aim was to protect its owner from possible poisoning.
The nef was also an opportunity to show, through its extravagance, the rank of its owner and the skill of the silversmiths who created it. Around 1415, Jean Ier Duke de Berry was represented at his table, accompanied by a nef specially carved with his emblems: a bear and a wounded swan. The nef was gradually replaced towards the middle of the 16th century by the "cadinet", a plateau with three locked compartments.
The most precious surviving example, the parcel-gilt silver-mounted “Burghley nef” made in Paris in 1527-1528, has a body made of a nautilus shell. It was discovered in the basement of Burghley House near Stamford in 1956 during an inventory, was auctioned by Christie's in 1959 and was then purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The second half of the 19th century saw the emergence, particularly in Germany, in the city of Hanau, of the Historismus movement, reflecting a profound influence of the Middle Ages to the end of the 17th century. This led to the re-creation of nefs, corporation cups and ivory silver-mounted tankards.
To enhance this medieval appearance, these pieces were sometimes enamelled or set with cabochons of semi-precious stones. 10 historicist nefs feature in our upcoming Style sale.