These vases are considered to be one of the most famous models introduced by the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres; such discerning patrons as Madame de Pompadour and her brother the Marquis de Marigny collected the form. Among the largest vessels produced by the factory, these vases were extremely difficult to fire; the multiple piercings in the body weakened the overall structure, and they tended to collapse in the kiln. Consequently, only about twelve were ever produced, ten of which survive today.
The shape derives from the nef, a table decoration in the form of a ship, usually of precious metals, used since medieval times. This vase would have held potpourri used to perfume a room. Eighteenth-century ladies made their own, experimenting with various ingredients and sometimes blending essences for as long as nine years. Vases known as vaisseau à mat (masted ships) were made to be sold with other vases of different shapes to form a garniture.