The Most Complete Known Copy
VONTET, Jacques
L’Art de trancher la viande, et toutes sortes de fruits. A la mode italienne, et nouvellement à la françoise, par Jacques Vontet, ecuyer tranchant.
Lyon, no name, [ca.1668-1669].
4to (225 x 164 mm) engraved and unidentified coat of arms, 3 unn.ll. (title in calligraphy, introduction), 32 unn.pp. of text, illustrated with 50 engraved an annotated plates (some repetaed). Contemporary limp vellum
Vicaire, col. 870; Livres en bouche, 145.

One of the most curious works of gastronomic literature.

It consists of a series of engraved plates without printed text, designed to illustrate the art of carving. The accompanying text is always handwritten.

The most complete copy described to date.

It contains 50 plates (some with 2 engravings) and 1 plate with a large coat of arms.

The 3 plates bound at the end are duplicates of the plates bound in at the beginning of the volume together with the explanatory culinary text.

Only about ten copies of this treatise are known, most composed in a slightly different manner: the Baron Pichon copy (with 35 plates only ) described by Vicaire col. 870, the Béhague copy (also 35 plates) described in the catalogue Food and Drink, Maggs n° 135, the Grimod de La Reynière copy (De Bry sale) –  an interesting provenance because Grimod used a plate as a frontispiece for his Manuel des Amphitryons; another copy (with 34 plates) is described in the Bulletin Morgan 1879-1881 n°7096.

The copy Mutelet de Metz (with 41 plates) is described in Livres en bouche, Bibl. Nat. n° 145; and the copy described in Oberlé, Fastes n° 552 (39 plates).

The most detailed description can be found in Von Lucullus zu Escoffier by Harry Schraemli, the great Swiss chef, who eagerly describes the work as “the first Swiss art of carving”; “the art of carving reached its peak in the 17th century and this was thanks to the work of a Swiss born, Jacques Vontet born in Fribourg. He visited all the cultural centres of Europe to teach his art in the princely courts. In 1627 he had a talented artist engrave 29 plates showing all kinds of poultry and fruit. He had these engravings bound with interleaved sheets annotated by his hand and sold the manuscripts to his pupils…”. Vontet continued his career in Lyon where he was based in rue du Bois near Saint-Nizier.

The present copy is composed as follows: 1 f. with a full-page coat of arms, 1 f. of calligraphy title, 2 ff. calligraphy on both sides: To the reader. In this introduction Vontet defines the function: “An Escuyer tranchant must be of good birth because he must hold one of the first rows between the servants and his Maistre (…) He must present himself at table with his sword at his side, his coat on his shoulders and his napkin on his left arm…” followed by details on his own career. “I had the happiness to serve in Spain as a squire at the table of Monseigneur the Duke of Coraldo, in Rome I taught publicly the greatest nobility both foreign and domestic, I continued the same exercise in Siena, Padua and in all the other superb cities of Italy…”. he then give details on how to interpretate the engraved plates.

The 32 text pages carry explanations of the plates (often calligraphed on the reverse side).

The engraved plates depict the following: The way to hold the fork and knife – The method of slicing allouettes becquefics and ortolans – Of quail, thrushes and blackbirds – Of pigeons – Of chickens, turkeys and peacocks – Woodcock, Pigeons – Chickens, turkeys and peacocks – Woodcocks, crows and francolins – Red and grey partridges – Duckling and hoopoe – How to slice and divide the above birds and fowl into two or four parts – How to divide the above game into five pieces – Capon Italian style – Second way of serving capon – Boiled hen and boiled chickens – Guinea rooster, peacock and crane – Large guinea fowl, swan and heron – Large pheasant – Wild and domestic duck – Goose – Goose sliced in a dish – Hare (3 plates) – Hare and goat – Pig (2 plates) – Kid (2 plates) –  Calf’s teste (2 plates) – Pork’s hindquarters and wild boar – Calf’s loin – Ham – Leg of lamb – Sheep’s shoulder – Fish – Fruit (6 plates) – 5 plates of strange animals (crustaceans, turtles, fantastic animals), 5 plates without annotations (citrus fruits, large fowl and 3 fowls, one of which is a double).

Most of the figures are completed in pen (indications of slicing and numbering of the pieces).

We have not identified the coat of arms at the beginning. The same coat of arms appeared in a copy sold at auction in 2012

This “Work was intended for the author’s teaching needs and the distribution of copies to his pupils. This semi-private destination would explain the surprising form of these volumes, halfway between manuscript and printed form. The figures – largely inspired by those of Giegher [Matthias Giegher. Li tre trattati…. Padua 1639] – are in fact engraved on copper and therefore printed, while the explanatory texts accompanying them are handwritten. Among the dozen or so known copies, the one in Metz is certainly one of the most interesting. More complete than the Pichon copy in terms of both the number of plates and the accompanying texts, it is probably of a slightly later execution, but its Germanic calligraphy suggests that it was written by a pupil of the author” (Livres en bouche).

“The major work of the French cutting school, l’art de trancher la viande et toutes sortes de fruits by Jacques Vontet (1650). This is the second French teaching book on the art of cutting in France. It is very strongly inspired by the manuscript of Pierre Petit. Bibliographers have made this work an enigma because the author is certainly not identified. For some it is Pierre Petit, who would have been copied by Jacques Vontet twenty years later. For others, there is only one author. This work is of capital importance. Firstly because it gives us plates of drawings corresponding to the cuttings of the time. Secondly, because it was part of the library of Grimod de la Reynière, who codified gastronomy at the beginning of the 19th century (Gil Galasso, Histoire de l’art de la découpe, p. 107).

An exceptional copy.

Small brown stains in the upper corner; vellum stained and with small tears.