- Museum number
- Object: The Mechanical Galleon
Automaton in the form of a 'nef' or ship table ornament.
Gilded brass hull with embossed decoration of the sea with waves and monsters.
Three masts with yard arms carrying furled cloth sails. At the top of each mast a metal pennant. Wire rigging ropes and waxed thread ratlines.
On the main deck eight figures each with a sword.
A small clock is mounted at the base of the main mast, showing hours and minutes on a silver dial with coloured enamel floral motifs
In the crows' nests of the main mast sailors strike the hours and quarters on inverted bells.
Beneath the main mast heralds and Electors automatically process before an Emperor seated beneath a canopy with a double-headed eagle of the Holy Roma Empire.
On the rear deck, two painted figures with swords.
The bowsprit contains a wheel-lock canon which fired automatically.
A further ten cannons are arranged around the hull.
Within the hull, spring-driven clockwork mechanisms operated the automaton figures and provided motion for the machine to run along and also pumped the bellows to provide air for the regal. On the starboard side of the movement a large rotating programme barrel operated the stop on the regal to play the music.
Wheels originally at the base of the hull have been replaced with ball feet.
A regal organ with bellows played music as the machine moved along.
Whilst in motion the tops of the foremast and mizzen mast rotated.
Originally the base of the movement was stretched with a drum-skin automatically played when the ship was in motion.
- Production date
Height: 104 centimetres
Length: 78.50 centimetres
Width: 20.30 centimetres (excluding cannons)
- Curator's comments
The following text is the entry for this object from the unpublished catalogue of John Leopold, former Assistant Keeper of Horology at the Museum. This information is unedited and should be used accordingly.
NEF and associated figure.
The associated figure is 1983,7-6,1.
Nef: presented by Octavius S. Morgan, The Friars, who had "lately purchased" it (letter of 2nd July 1866). The register notes: "probably made for the Emperor Rudolf II by Hanns Schlott of Augsburg, about 1581".
Associated figure: given by Mr.Rainer Zietz of Rainer Zietz Ltd., Tite Street, London SW1 (in 1990 at: 39 Tite Street, SW1 4JP). The figure had recently been auctioned by Sotheby's; the catalogue already makes the connection with the BM-nef.
Cat. Cluny (1883) no.5104.
Britten 0 (1894) 375 (under Hanns Schlott).
Britten 1 (1899) 78, 464 (under Hanns Schlott).
Britten 3 (1911) 100.
Britten 4 (1919) 551 (under Hans Schlott).
Britten 5 (1922) 100.
Postcards (1925) no.2.
Baillie 1 (1929) 321 (under Hanns Schlott).
Britten 6 (1932) 107.
Baillie 2 (1947) 284.
Hughes (1949) 91.
Rhodes (1955-2) 28.
Britten 7 (1956) 35.
Lloyd (1958) 109-110.
HJ 102 no.1221 (June 1960) 370.
Streng (1963) 278.
AD September 1965 (front cover).
Goaman (1967) 41.
Tait (1968) 41-2, pl.41-44 (wrong reg.no., attr. to Rudolf II).
Willsberger (1975) --.
Britten 3 2 (1977) 95.
Jagger (1977) 41, 88.
Tait (1983) 35-37.
Haspels (1987) 52-3, 93, 132, 135, 198.
Exh.cat. Paris 1999.
A cigarette card by John Player & Son, ca.1930 (actually thought to be 1928): Antique Clocks 12 no.6 (November 1989) 32.
The associated figure: auction cat.Sotheby's, London, 18 November 1982, lot 55.
Baillie describes the nef as being of silver.
AH 13 no.6 (December 1982) 513 is the Ecouen nef!
In his letter of 24 Febr. 1930 H.V.Batten mentions as one of the jobs he has done in the past: "Clock in the form of ship, Rodelph II - 1581, partly restored and cleaned" (Ar. 28).
The mechanism which activates the nef consists of three assemblies: the clock, the musical and drumming trains, and the running train with the guns.
Several of the steel parts (the frame, the movement pillars and the spring barrels) have been painted black.
The clock, at top-rear, has going train, quarter- and full-hour striking. It activates the hammers of the mariners in the crows nests of the central mast: the top one strikes the quarters, the lower one the full hours, both on inverted bells. The rest of the mechanism is not connected to the clock and can only be set off by hand.
The musical train occupies the port side of the bottom-rear movement. It is unlocked by pushing a lever (or pulling a string) on the side of the nef, at rear port. A hole in the arbor of the detent in the musical train apparently was associated with the unlocking. The musical train pumps the bellows and drives the musical drum which in turn plays the organ; it also drives the platform of the Electors and through it the revolving rear mast, and produced the motions of the trumpeters on the deck (now replaced by stationary courtiers). The musical drum from time to time unlocks and locks the drumming train (starboard side of the rear movement), which performs random drumming on the skin in the base of the nef and activated the kettle drummer (figure of the kettle drummer now missing). After a complete performance of the music, coinciding with a full revolution of the Electors, the musical train set off the running train (this connection now missing) and then locked itself.
The front movement houses the running train, which propelled the nef (all four wheels missing and replaced by five ball feet). At the same time it made the front mast revolve and produced blows on the skin in the base. In addition it activated the figure of a military drummer (at the port side of the forward mast, figure now missing) and three sailors hoisting a rope (all figures now missing, though some of the mechanism is still present). A pin on one of the rear wheels made the rudder wave (most of this is now missing). During this performance the running train unlocked the wheel lock in the bow, firing the main gun and setting off, by means of a fuse, the ten other guns (connections now missing). At the end of the run the train locked itself.
The duration of the trains is such that the whole performance could be repeated once. Only the shooting of the guns would be missing (unless they had been re-primed).
From the musical train:
| 48 → program-assembly.
Great wheel | (ca. 2a) ┘ ┌ 12 ┌ 10
(Fusee 16 ║ --------- | ── | ───
turns) ║ (ca. 1a) ┘ 12 ┤ 160 → musical drum.
└ 10 6 96
── ── ──
10 96 12 → rear mast.
The program-assembly is a sandwich of four discs, from back to front:
a. Locking-plate of the train, locks after one full rev.
b. Disc to activate the five starboard trumpeters.
c. Disc to activate the four port trumpeters.
d. Disc to activate the port drummer (figure and much of the mechanism
Calculation shows that the program-assembly, the musical drum and the platform for the Electors each make 2 revs. for 16 revs. of the great wheel; this part of the nef could therefore perform twice for each winding. The rear mast makes 8 revs. for each rev. of the others.
The drum for the music has before each tune an empty space to give time to pump up the bellows. The gaps in the edge of the drum clearly programmed the drumming; traces in the construction show that this was "read" on the opposite side from the "fingers" for the organ.
Great wheel | 10 50 35
(Fusee 10 ║ ── ── ──
turns) ║ 50 5 60 → front mast; this wheel has 12 pins which probably
↓ activated the four hoisters on the deck
locking-plate (connection now missing)
1 rev. of locking plate = 5 turns of great wheel, therefore this train could perform twice for one winding.
Setting off the gun.
The train for this is missing, but was probably situated in the top of the running train. There is thought to have been a 1/2-gearing, so that the gun was set off after two performances of the running.
The gun has a wheel lock mechanism to fire it. In addition there is a U-shaped channel which leads into a pipe that emerges at the underside of the bow: all this was clearly to be primed with gunpowder, which would be ignited by the wheel lock and would in turn set light to a fuse stuck into the pipe. It is thought that this fuse was draped over the other cannon to set them off successively.
HISTORY AND PROVENANCE.
This Nef appears to be the one that was formerly in the Kunstkammer of the Electors of Saxony in Dresden. It is first mentioned in Dresden in 1587, when it was minutely described in the earliest inventory by the curator of the collection, David Usslaub:
"1 Vorgult kunstreich Schiff oder Naue A gilded Ship or Nef, skilfully
mit einer virtel vnd stunden schlagende made, with a quarter- and full-hour
Vhr / welche alle 24. stunden muss vf- striking clock, which is to be wound
gezogen werden / Oben mit dreien Mast- every 24 hours. Above with three
brumen / vf welchen die Bussknechte im masts, in the crow's-nests of which
Mastkorbenn vmbgehen / vnd die Virtel the sailors revolve and strike the
vnd stunden vf den glöcklein mit ham- quarters and hours with hammers on
mern schlagen / Inwendigk die Rom: Kai: the bells. Inside is the Holy Roman
Maijt: vf den Kaijserlichen stul sitz- Emperor sits on the Imperial Throne,
endt / vnd vor denselben die Sieben and in front of him pass the seven
Churfursten vnd Heroldten mit erzeig- Electors with Heralds, paying homage
unge ihrer Reuerentz zu endtpfahunge as they receive their fiefs.
der Lehen vmbgehend / Dessgleichen Furthermore ten trumpeters and a
Zehen Trommeter vnd ein Heerbaucker / kettle-drummer alternately announce
die da wechsel weise zu tische blasen / the banquet. Also a drummer and three
Auch ein Trommelschleger vnd dreij guardsmen, and sixteen small cannons,
Trabandten / Sambt 16. kleinen stuce- eleven of which may be loaded and
lein / derer man 11. Laden khan / vnd fire automatically. With its
von sich selbsten abgehen / Darbeij ein protective case; it stands on a
futter / stehet vf einer grunen langen long, green table covered with
tafell mit tuch behenget /" cloth.
(Inventory in the Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden; text quoted from the photocopy in the Math.-Phys. Salon., Dresden. )
In 1629 the Ausburg art-agent Philipp Hainhofer visited the Dresden Kunstkammer and again described the Nef, adding that it was the work of Schlotthaim. Contemporary sources indicate that Schlotthaim made such objects for the Imperial Court; they were meant a.o. as presents for the Turkish Court.
The date of manufacture is narrowed down by the fact that the Nef of the Emperor Rudolf II (Kunsthist.Mus., Vienna), which is of silver but otherwise rather similar, is dated 1585.
Some of the damage to the nef may be explained by the fact that the bombardment of Dresden by the Prussians under Graf Draun in July 1760 caused damage to the Kunstkammer ("10 Kugeln ... in die Kunst-Cammer geschossen"). See: G.Heres, Dresdener Kunstsammlungen im 18. Jahrhundert (Leipzig 1991) 133.
After a period gradual decline, re-organisation and general change of taste a number of items from the old Kunstkammer, mostly damaged and incomplete, were sold at auction in 1835. It is thought that the present Nef was among the objects sold. Who bought it and how it came to London is not known, but it may be noted that another object from the Dresden collection, a musical automaton of a parrot, was sold at Christie's in 1858 a). It is also significant that the Museum knew from the very first that the Nef was made by one "Hanns Schlott", which argues that, although the object is not signed, the makers name was never lost.
The Nef was presented to the Museum in 1866 by Octavius S. Morgan, who had "lately purchased" it (letter of 2nd July 1866). The register notes: "probably made for the Emperor Rudolf II by Hanns Schlott of Augsburg, about 1581".
The associated figure was given in 1983 by Mr.Rainer Zietz of Rainer Zietz Ltd., Tite Street, London SW1 (in 1990 at: 39 Tite Street, SW1 4JP). The figure had recently been auctioned by Sotheby's; the catalogue already makes the connection with the BM-nef.
Early ref. to this type of clock: "j orlage, fait al manere d'un nief, l'argent preis' par estimation, lx s." (Wood  26; effects of Henry V [+1422], "enumerated" in 1428).
Brusa has identified what must be considered a clear forerunner of the Schlottheim nefs: a nef made by Giovanni Giorgio Capobianco of Schio (near Vicenza), which was mentioned in 1537. It is described as rolling on a table while firing its guns. This nef was sent to Suleiman the Magnificent. (E.Morpurgo, Dizionario degli Orologiai Italiani, 2nd ed. (Milan 1974) 37; Brusa (1978) 44.)
A Nef very similar to the British Museum's is in the Musée de la Renaissance, Ecouen; however, this is thought to have turned up in India in the 19th century and therefore is more likely to have been one of the presents to the Turks. Moreover, it has no provision to fire any guns other than the one in the bow. Curiously, the Écouen nef has eight Electors.
For Hans Schlottheim see Streng (1963) 277-279, Bobinger (1970/71), and Maurice (1976) 118-122. Born ca.1545, came from Naumburg to Augsburg prob. 1567, married 1573, master (Kleinuhrmacher) 1576. Buys a house in the Schmiedgasse (next to Nikolaus Schmidt the Elder) 1579. Christoph Rohr in Leipzig was his brother-in-law (Kugellaufuhr). Married II 1606; last mentioned 1625, dead by 1626.
The music was reconstructed by Coole and recorded by Clutton on an early organ (Lloyd  110).
a) For this sale see V.Hantzsch, "Beiträge zur älteren Geschichte der kurfürstlichen Kunstkammer in Dresden", Neues Archiv für sächsische Geschichte und Altertumskunde 23 (Dresden 1923) 220 ff. (here quoted 288); H.von Friesen, "Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Dresdner Gemälde-Gallerie", ditto 1 (Dresden 1880) 315 ff. (here quoted 320-1); Leopold (2001) 73 note 10.
The levers for activating the regals have countmarks; there are also countmarks on the bracket in which they are pivoted on the starboard side, but the two series of marks cannot be made to match (they count in different directions). There are provisions for playing ten regals, but there are only eight levers and no more are called for with the existing musical drum.
Lloyd (1958) shows the figures on the main deck differently arranged, and the original figure was then in the position of a trumpeter. These pictures were made by Lloyd, app. during the visit.
BIBLIOGRAPHY (Pauline Wholey – 2019)
Cluny (1883) E.du Sommerard, Musée des Thermes et de l'Hotel de Cluny, Catalogue et description des Objets d'Art (Paris 1883).
Britten 0 (1894) F.J.Britten, Former Clock & Watchmakers and their Work (London 1894).
Britten 1 (1899) - F.J.Britten, Old Clocks and Watches and their Makers (London 1899).
Britten 3 (1911) F.J.Britten, Old Clocks and Watches & their Makers (London 1911).
Britten 4 (1919) - F.J.Britten, Old Clocks & their Makers (London 1919). The author died 1913; this 4th edition (as well as the 5th and 6th) were edited by his daughter Annie M.Britten. Owing to post-war conditions the 4th edition was much reduced.
Britten 5 (1922) - F.J.Britten, Old Clocks and Watches & their Makers (London s.d.).
Postcards (1925) - British Museum, Set 77, Clocks from the 16th to the 18th Century ... 15 Pictorial Postcards (London? ca.1925). Envelope containing 6 pages of text and 15 postcards. There exist two issues; in the earlier one the postcards are slightly larger and they have no printed material on the back. NB: "No photographs seem to be available" (HJ [April 1923] 158).
Baillie 1 (1929) G.H.Baillie, Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World, 1st ed. (London 1929).
Britten 6 (1932) F.J.Britten, Old Clocks and Watches and their Makers (London 1932). See previous edition.
Baillie 2 (1947) G.H.Baillie, Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World 2nd ed (London 1947).
Hughes (1949) G.B.Hughes, `Silver Nefs and Galleons', Country Life Annual (1949) 91 95.
Rhodes (1955 2) G.Rhodes, `Perfection of Movement, rare Timepeieces at the British Museum', AD (November 1955) 28-30.
Britten 7 (1956) Britten's Old Clocks and Watches and their Makers, 7th ed. by G.H.Baillie, C.Clutton and C.A.Ilbert (London 1956).
Lloyd (1958-1) H.A.L(loyd), `A.H.S. Visit to the British Museum', AH 2 no.6 (March 1958) 109 110.HJ 102 no.1221 (June 1960) 370.
Streng (1963) - F.Streng, `Augsburger Meister der Schmiedgasse um 1600 - Ein Beitrag zur Handwerksgeschichte und zur Fronmüller-Forschung', Blätter des Bayerischen Landesvereins für Familienkunde 26 (1963) no.1 pp.247-287.AD September 1965 (front cover).
Goaman (1967)M.Goaman, English Clocks (London 1967).
Tait (1968) H.Tait, Clocks in the British Museum (London 1968).
Willsberger (1975) J.Willsberger, Clocks & Watches, six hundred years of the world's most beautiful timepieces (New York 1975) Note: this book has no page or figure numbers.
Britten 3 2 (1977) The Antique Collector's Club edition of Old Clocks and Watches & their Makers (revised ed. of Britten 3, Woodbridge 1977).
Jagger (1977) C.Jagger, The World's great Clocks and Watches (London etc. 1977).
Tait (1983) H.Tait, Clocks and Watches (London 1983).
Haspels (1987) J.J.L.Haspels, Automatic musical instruments, their mechanics and their music 1580-1820 (s.l. 1987).
The present state of the nef means that it no longer functions. The eight figures on the main deck are not original, but are cast copies of one original figure on the rear deck. The original figures were trumpeters and drummers. The wheels have been removed and replaced with ball feet.
For a similar figure, and possibly an original from this nef, see a miniature figure - registration number 1983,0706.1.
An inventory from the Kunstkammer of the Elector of Saxony in Dresden, describes in detail a nef such this - but it could well have been another example.
Two other similar mechanical nefs are known to have survived, firstly a silver gilt nef, of different design, formerly belonging to Emperor Rudolf II in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. A similar nef to the British Museum example in the Musée de la Renaissance in Écouen, France.
Text from 'Clocks', by David Thompson, London, 2004, pp. 52-55.
Automaton clock in the form of a ship or nef
Augsburg, c. 1585
Height 104 cm, length 78.5 cm, width 20.3 cm (excluding cannons)
"A gilded Ship or Nef, skilfully made, with a quarter and full hour striking clock, which is to be wound every 24 hours. Above are three masts, in the crow's nests of which sailors revolve and strike the quarters and hours with hammers on the bells. Inside, the Holy Roman Emperor sits on the imperial throne, and in front of him pass the seven electors with heralds, paying homage as they receive their fiefs. Furthermore ten trumpeters and a kettle drummer alternately announce the banquet. Also a drummer and three guardsmen, and sixteen small cannon, eleven of which may be loaded and fire automatically. With its protective case, it stands on a long green table cloth."
This description of a ship automaton, recently discovered by John Leopold, former curator of horology at the British Museum, in the inventories of the 'Kunstkammer' of the Elector of Saxony in Dresden, could easily refer to a magnificent 'nef' made by Hans Schlottheim of Augsburg in about 1585, which is now in The British Museum collections. It has a small clock, showing hours and minutes on a beautiful silver dial with coloured enamel floral motifs. Sailors wielding hammers in the crow's nests strike the hours and quarters. However, the machine is not essentially a clock, but a magnificent and ingenious automaton designed to announce a banquet by travelling independently along a table. As it went, a small regal or pipe organ would play a tune and drumsticks would play on a skin stretched across the base of the ship's hull. While all this was going on, the tops of the fore and mizzen masts would twirl round. As part of the entertainment, the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, preceded by three heralds, processed and each made a small bow before the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, seated on a throne beneath a canopy. The ship moved on again accompanied by the music and drumming and as a grand finale to entertain the guests, it fired the main cannon in the bowsprit, which then ignited a fast-burning fuse that burnt quickly round the hull, firing off the other cannons in turn to finish its performance in a wonder of noise and smoke.
Hans Schlottheim was born some time between 1544 and 1547, the son of a clockmaker from Naumburg in Saxony. From as early as 1567 he lived in Augsburg. Although nothing is known of his apprenticeship, it is recorded that he was a journeyman clockmaker in the workshop of Jeremias Metzger in the 1570s. On 20 December 1573 he married Ursula Geiger, widow of the master locksmith Hans Schitterer. By this marriage he obtained his 'smith's eligibility' or Schmiedegerechtigkeit and was thus able to begin working in his own right within the Augsburg Clockmakers' Guild, where he became a master clockmaker in 1576. In 1586 Schlottheim became a 'guard' within the guild, with responsibility for supervising the quality of the work of the other Augsburg clock makers. It was in 1586 that he was given permission to work for a year at the Imperial Court in Prague. In subsequent years he again left Augsburg to work for the Prince Elector of Saxony in Dresden in 1589 and 1593. Schlottheim died in 1625; his second wife, Euphrosina Osswald, having been described as a widow in the tax registers for 1626.
Schlottheim is also renowned for a number of other clocks and automata, including in 1577 the first public clock to be installed in Augsburg that struck the hours and quarters. He also made two other nefs; one in the Musée National de la Renaissance in Écouen and one in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. As well as these, Schlottheim is known to have made the 'Trumpeter Automaton' in 1582 for Wilhelm V, Duke of Bavaria, who presented it to Archduke Ferdinand of the Tyrol, and which is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. A further clock known as the 'Christmas Nativity' automaton, described in the Dresden 'Kunstkammer' inventory of 1 January 1589, was intended for the Ottoman Emperor in about 1584. It was destroyed in 1945 and now only survives as a fragment in the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon in Dresden. In 1588 he created two crayfish in red-painted copper, one of them now also in the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, Dresden. In addition to these, Schlottheim made a trumpeter automaton in 1589 for the Duchess of Graz and in about 1600, a clock with a rolling ball called 'The Tower of Babel' now in the Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden. Lastly there is 'The Triumph of Bacchus' automaton, which he made in about 1605 and which is also in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
The British Museum nef was purchased by Octavius Morgan in 1866 and presented to the Museum. In that year he wrote:
"My dear Franks, I have as you know, lately purchased a wonderful clock in the form of a medieval ship having several automaton figures which move with the clockwork. My intention was to have added it to my collection of ancient clocks down here but the difficulty and trouble of getting it here when cleaned and properly set to right as it requires and especially the great risk of its sustaining injury in the journey and frequent moving have made me determined to offer it as a present to the British Museum, if the Trustees shall be pleased to accept it. For I consider it to be an object of such great curiosity and interest, independently of its being so beautiful a piece of work, and such a fine specimen of the mechanism of the sixteenth century that I really think it is a pity that so fine a thing should be concealed in a private house instead of forming part of a public collection as it would be if received into the British Museum where it would be appreciated . . . Yours very truly, Octavius Morgan."
Sadly, the years have not been kind to this nef and now none of it functions and nearly all the original figures are missing. Those on the main deck are all copies of an original standing at the edge of the rear deck and many others are no longer present.
Presented by Octavius Morgan in 1866.
- On display (G39/dc5)
- Exhibition history
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number