Nef (metalwork)

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A nef is an extravagant table ornament and container of precious metals used in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, made in the shape of a ship - nef was an alternative term in French for a carrack. If not just used for decoration, it could hold salt or spices, the latter being very expensive in the Middle Ages, or cutlery, or even napkins. The large nef in the well-known calendar miniature for January from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is being used to hold, and perhaps wash, gilt dishes from the table service.Campbell, Gordon. , p. 412, Oxford University Press US, 2006, ISBN 0195189485, 9780195189483 initially just consisting of the hull, and perhaps initially used to drink from; by the 15th century the most elaborate had masts, sails and even crew, and had become too crowded with such details to be used as containers for anything. The so-called Mechanical Galleon in the British Museum is a late 16th century German nef which was also a clock and automaton, with moving figures and music.

A nef was usually made of silver, silver-gilt or gold, often further embellished with enamel and jewel. A nautilus shell often formed the hull of the ship, as in the Burghley Nef illustrated. Some nefs had wheels to allow them to be rolled from one end of the table to the other, but most had legs or pedestals. The nef was placed in front of the most important person at table as...
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