Moonlight versus sunlight at the Château d'Ecouen

Walking along the woodland path on our way to the train station, I teased Véronique that the one piece of information that I would retain from our tour of the Château d'Ecouen is that moonlight fades material just as much, if not more, than sunlight. When our guide shared this little nugget of wisdom while we were admiring some magnificent Belgian tapestries, the comment split the WICE group down the middle, with the French on one side and the Anglophones on the other. Even though I haven't been able to find enough conclusive evidence on the internet to support either argument, I did come across the following statement on a website devoted to the "dos" and "don'ts" of laundering:

DON’T expose table linens to sunlight or moonlight for an extended period of time to avoid color fading.

The shades are drawn to protect the tapestries from sun and moonlight.

Whatever the case may be, the vibrant blues and sumptuous reds in the masterpiece, "David and Bathsheba", appear to be as vivid today as they were when the tapestries were first woven in approximately 1520-1525. The ten tapestries once belonged to King Henry VIII and came to France after they were purchased in a public auction by the Cluny Museum in 1847. Another one of the reasons why the colors are so well preserved is that the tapestries, which are a total of 246 feet (75 m) long and 14.8 feet (4.5 m) high, were too large to display. With the exception of a brief period when they were exhibited abroad in the 1970s, the tapestries were folded and kept in reserve until they were hung in the Château d'Ecouen.

Built for Anne de Montmorency, who just happened to be a man in spite of his misleading forename, the Château d'Ecouen is an elegant example of French Renaissance architecture. As the owner of over 130 castles, including Chantilly, the Duke of Montmorency was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in France during the 16th century.

In addition to the tapestries, the painted fireplaces are remarkable. 

Château d'Ecouen 
95440 Ecouen
The castle is easily accessible from Paris on public transportation.

Oh! With all of the excitement about the sunlight versus moonlight controversy, I almost forgot that there's an early copy of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper hanging in the chapel. It was painted in Milan between 1506 and 1509 by Marco d'Oggiono, one of da Vinci's disciples. After the guide questioned our group about the identity of Judas in the painting, I took this close-up as a reminder that the Betrayer of Christ is the one holding a bag of money clenched in his fist. That's a pretty good clue!


  1. That is an interesting tidbit about moonlight. I'm not sure I believe it, seeing as how the moon reflects such a tiny fraction of the sun's light. But then again, I don't know anything about tapestry upkeep. :)

    Beautiful chateau.

    1. See - you belong in the Anglophone group! That was exactly our argument. The French, however, steadfastly maintained that moonlight is more harmful than sunlight and told us to do an experiment with a piece of paper taped to the window if we didn't believe them. I only wish that I could have found conclusive evidence online. It makes me wonder what scientists spend their time doing since they're obviously not researching vital questions like this! ;)

  2. Wouldn't be an issue this spring, since the clouds aren't letting in any light at all!

    1. Good point! Although the sun did break through the clouds while we were at the castle which is what prompted the entire discussion. When one of the women teasingly asked if we could open the blinds to admire the view, our guide said that he would lose his job if he opened them. One thing led to another and we were on the hot topic of moonlight.

  3. Well, I've never!

    Moonlight! Of all the preposterous notions!

    The paper on the window experiment doesn't seem to be a good indicator, as paper doesn't hold color the way fabric would. And paper simply changes by atmospheric changes. But any light will affect color, especially if it is intense. I'm actually "fighting" with a client's designer over the lighting of the art right now--it's too harsh and direct but they say since the bulbs have filters on them the works are safe. I disagree.

    But moonlight--maybe the light of a full moon--it can cast a pretty strong shadow.

    Now to amend your found comment on table linens in the sun--white linens (bed or table) would benefit from time in the sun as the sun would bleach them whiter. Oh to have a backyard again.

    Okay, I just checked my copy of The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping and they write, "Any amount of light, however small, will cause photochemical damage, and so for preservation the best level is zero. But to view object, there has to be some level of light." And it's all about UV light levels, so the question would be, how much UV light does the moon provide?

    1. Joseph, I was really curious to know your thoughts on the sun vs moonlight controversy. Thanks for posting the excerpt from The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping. The French people were adamant that moonlight fades fabric at a faster rate than sunshine and gave examples of personal experience with curtains and furniture. Perhaps what surprised me the most is that the Anglophones were skeptical while the Francophones were believers. It's interesting to think about the things that people learn in one country and not in another.

  4. I love tapestries. We have copies of some beautiful mille fleur tapestries that were found at Boussac Castle, the famous dame a la licorne ones. The originals are in the Cluny museum in Paris which I MUST get to some time.


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