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Nef Designed by Joseph von Storck (Vienna, 1830-1902)

Maker(s):  oseph von Storck (Vienna, 1830-1902)
Date: Circa 1880
Materials/Techniques:    Painted enamel on copper
Dimensions: h 17.125 "
w 13.75 "
d 4.5 "

Origin: Vienna, Austri
Inventory #: 96
Unmarked • Height 43.5 cm. • Width 35 cm. • Depth 11.5 cm

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The word nef is derived from old French meaning ‘ship’ and was a decorative art form used by silversmiths primarily for ceremonial purposes at table settings from atleast the medieval period. Historians have found references to nefs as early as 1239 but the earliest examples surviving today date only from the late 15th century onwards. From the earliest periods, nefs were used at princely tables either to hold eating utensils, as salt or spice containers, as drinking vessels for wine, or in later examples purely as ornamental objects to be appreciated for the fine workmanship involved in their creation. Symbolically, the nef at the table before a host or important guest represented “good fortune and fair sailing on the uncertain seas of life”.1

The nef eventually evolved into a purely decorative object and was a favorite form produced in a variety of sizes and materials, particularly by German silversmiths in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The late 19th century Viennese enamellers continued this tradition by creating a great variety of them (in silver and gilt-metal) from small single-masted examples to extremely large ones with several masts and figures measuring almost 4 feet high. All of the major makers produced them, such as Hermann Böhm, Karl Bank, Karl Rossler. Hermann Ratzersdorfer made magnificent examples in rock crystal. The many elements involved in their construction (the hulls, deck, sails and base) provided a lot of surface area to be decorated and this may be why the enamellers took such pleasure in decorating them. In the present example, no area has been left without any painted decorationl the entire underside of the hull, the interior of the hull (the sails and rigging l i f t off as a separate piece), the deck, both sides of the sails and each of the three masts have been colorfully painted with mythological and grotesque decoration. The central masts are each fitted with two crow’s nests and support large sails each painted with an unidentified coat of arms, along with two fluttering burgees at the stern. Six figures of sailors are either climbing on rope-formed ladders or hanging out on barrels and/or crates on the the deck.

The entire hull is supported by a well-cast figure of a merman. A nef of very similar design with the identical merman stem, but in rock crystal, is illustrated by Grewenig,2 , who says that the designer of the model was Joseph von Storck (1830-1902), the leading renaissance revival designer who was at the forefront of design in Vienna in the late 19th century. Storck was the director of the design school connected with the Vienna Museum of Applied Arts (1868-1899) and collaborated with an array of various manufacturers of furniture, glass (Lobmeyr), silver, textiles, bronzes and enamels. Among his well known designs are those for the interior of the Vienna Opera House and of the Imperial Pavilion at the Vienna Exposition of 1873, where he showed his mannerist style glass service commissioned by the Emperor (1869) with mounts by Ratzersdorfer. A similar nef in silver-gilt is in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, registration number A6070, Bequest of C R Thornett, 1972.

Related Literature:

1Georgina R. Smith, Table Decoration: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Charles E. Tuttle, 1968, p. 48.

2Meinrad Maria Grewenig,, Macht & Pracht, Europas Glanz im 19. Jahrhundert, 2006, Edition Völklinger Hütte im Springpunkt Verlag, p. 84.

Erika Speel, Viennese Enamels in the Renaissance Revival Style, The Magazine Antiques, April 2006, Vol. CLXIX, No. 4.

Erika Speel, Painted Enamels, An Illustrated Survey 1500-1920, Lund Humphries, 2008.