This boat-shaped vase is one of the most famous models introduced by the Sèvres porcelain manufactory; such discerning patrons as Madame de Pompadour and her brother the marquis de Marigny collected vases of this 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, which was usually of precious metals and used since medieval times. This vase would have held potpourri used to perfume a room. Containers for potpourri first appeared in the 1700s in France, made from precious metals, porcelain, lacquer, or hardstones; recipes for their sweet-smelling contents were soon prevalent. Vases known as vaisseau à mat (masted ships) were made to be sold with other vases of different shapes to form a garniture. Charles-Nicolas Dodin painted the rustic scene on the front, copying an engraving after a painting by the Flemish artist David Teniers the Younger.