Chillon Castle Foundation has been designing and implementing temporary exhibitions in various castle rooms since 2005. The subjects covered range from the history of the monument or, more generally, medieval history of the Savoy family, through to key themes such as the surrounding lake, mountains and landscape, travel, the Romance era and art.
These historical exhibitions build on the castle’s prestige and contribute to its scientific credibility. Each year, with this in mind, the Foundation builds new partnerships with internationally renowned institutions, regularly exhibiting (often unique) items of cultural significance, on loan from Swiss, French and Italian museums.
To prepare a banquet, cooks must be equipped with the utensils their art requires. In his culinary treatise Du fait de cuisine, Master Chiquart – head chef to the Savoy court – lists the needs of his brigade. Large knives in particular were required to butcher and prepare meat. Cooks’ tools were already well defined by specific tasks.
Carving squires cut the meat dishes before presenting them to the prince and his guests. Acting close to the lord with dangerous instruments, the carving squire had to be trustworthy, chosen from the nobles in the princely entourage. He held a prestigious position and had real technical know-how. The exercise of his art contributed greatly to the staging of the princely banquet. The carving squire, an official tasked with carving the lord’s meat, had to demonstrate ability and comprehensive knowledge of animal anatomy when it came to cutting meat in the correct place, on the first slice, and in accordance with the particular cut of meat. Once carved, he presented this to the lord on a knife blade, or in a more refined manner on a presentation stand such as this, typically German, creation. This example denotes particular metalworking expertise, with bone inlays in gilded brass.
This carving squire’s presentation knife, generously lent by the Musée des Arts de la Table, was on display at Chillon Castle from 14 September 2018 to 28 April 2019 as part of the temporary exhibition ‘Mouthwatering – Eating and drinking in the Middle Ages’.
The manuscript S 103, kept at the Médiathèque du Valais in Sion, is the only known copy of François Chiquart’s culinary treatise. The latter was the maître queux (literally, the magister ‘who commands’, coquus ‘cook’) to the Duke of Savoy Amadeus VIII at the beginning of 15th century.
In 1420, the sovereign of the Savoy States ordered his cook to put his culinary skills and his knowledge of banquet preparation in writing. At a time when manuscripts were still very expensive, this decision was not intended to highlight a trade, but rather to recognise the dignity and legitimacy of the House of Savoy, recently elevated to the status of a duchy and to keep in mind the prestigious banquets held on great occasions. The text is dictated to a scribe named Jehan de Dudens, who presents himself as a bourgeois and Annecy cleric in the introduction. The manuscript, composed of 122 sheets of paper, is divided into three distinct parts: the preparation of a banquet, recipes organised into menus, and a ballad of thanks accompanied by scholarly quotations.
Master Chiquart describes four banquet ‘shows’ where pomp took centre stage, whether through a complex ceremony or the quest for the most extreme dishes (birds covered with their plumage after cooking, gold powder, luxurious crockery, spectacular entremets, etc.) Everything was in aid of highlighting the brilliance of the court of Savoy.
This manuscript, generously lent by the Médiathèque du Valais, was on display at Chillon Castle from 14 September 2018 to 28 April 2019 as part of the temporary exhibition ‘Mouthwatering – Eating and drinking in the Middle Ages’.
Du fait de cuisine
Médiathèque du Valais, Sion
This standing recipient has a handle and spout for pouring water or a scented liquid onto guests’ hands to clean them at the beginning and end of a banquet. While most aquamaniles were in the shape of an animal, this example depicts the bust of a young, well-dressed man.
Hand-washing has been a part of table manners and hygiene, especially since the 13th century. It is done at the beginning and end of meals, and whenever necessary. In addition to towels, the long tablecloth was sometimes used as a hand towel. Le Mesnagier de Paris, a manuscript on domestic and culinary economy written at the end of the 13th century proposes a recipe for washing water: to make table water for hand-washing, boil sage in water, then drain the water and leave to cool (until tepid). Top with either marjoram, chamomile or rosemary and cook with orange peel. Bay leaves are also a good option.
These are herbal infusions with medicinal and disinfectant properties, sometimes mixed with rose water. Aquamaniles were vessels made of ceramic, alloy or precious metal, often in the shape of a character or an animal, especially a lion. They were used for washing one’s hands before meals or before mass. This one is in a Gothic style and probably came from North Germany, perhaps from Hildesheim Abbey.
This aquamanile, generously lent by the Musée de Cluny-Musée national du Moyen Âge, was on display at Chillon Castle from 14 September 2018 to 28 April 2019 as part of the temporary exhibition ‘Mouthwatering – Eating and drinking in the Middle Ages’.
Aquamanile bust of a young man
First quarter of the 14th century
Musée de Cluny-Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris
The Rule of Benedict of Nursia (6th century), intended to guide monks in their community life, gives indications on their diet in chapters 39 to 41. They were expected to lead a lifestyle of poverty and humility. Temperance was a key word that the saint justifies with an extract from the New Testament: ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down by the excesses of eating and drinking’ (Gospel according to Luke 21:34).
The Rule of Saint Benedict prohibits the consumption of meat by quadrupeds because it is assimilated to violence, blood and sexuality, fuelled by red meat; monks are only allowed to eat it in case of illness. Their daily life consisted of two meals made up of bread, a little wine and purees or soups. Most of their diet was based on vegetables, legumes, fruits and eggs.
This late 11th century manuscript is a compilation of several texts, including the Rule of Saint Benedict. It was written by two copyists in late Carolingian miniscule. The first word of the Rule (Avscvlta) begins with a letter decorated with vegetable branches in ink; a typology known as ‘arrow’ – a hollow letter with pointed twists. It was painted with minium, a lead oxide that gives it its red colour and contrasts with the rusty brown of the text body.
This manuscript, generously lent by the Stiftsbibliothek of Einsiedeln, was on display at Chillon Castle from 14 September 2018 to 28 April 2019 as part of the temporary exhibition ‘Mouthwatering – Eating and drinking in the Middle Ages’.
Regula S. Benedicti
Late 11th century
The first medieval cooking treatises date back to the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century. The most famous – and the most replicated in the Middle Ages – is undoubtedly the Viandier, attributed to the master chef to Kings Charles V and Charles VI of France, Guillaume Tirel, known as Taillevent (circa 1310-1395). This scroll is the oldest known copy of this text.
Medieval culinary treatises are mostly anonymous; in the rare cases where the author is named, he was almost always a cook serving a great prince or prelate. The Viandier mentions a certain ‘Taillevent’ who was identified as Guillaume Tirel at the end of the Middle Ages, so great was his fame.
However, the rediscovery of this scroll of parchment in 1953 invalidated this information, since it predates the birth of Guillaume Tirel. It was indeed common in the Middle Ages for anonymous culinary treatises to be attributed to famous chefs.
This text is a collection of 133 recipes, 116 of which are based on meat or fish; this omnipresence of meat products, as well as the high spice content of the dishes described (cinnamon, pepper, cumin, cloves, saffron, nutmeg, etc.) definitely places this treaty at the heart of aristocratic gastronomy. The parchment is 13.3 centimetres wide and nearly 2 metres long. It was, therefore, easy to roll it out on both sides and select only the desired recipe.
This parchment roll, generously lent by the Médiathèque du Valais, was on display at Chillon Castle from 14 September 2018 to 28 April 2019 as part of the temporary exhibition ‘Mouthwatering – Eating and drinking in the Middle Ages’.
Latter half of the 13th century
Médiathèque du Valais, Sion