French Chateau Laces                © J. Ames 2013

Imagine owning 18 chateaux! This is the happy circumstance of a lace collector in Maine.

Rarely do we have an opportunity to view laces of such exquisite beauty as this set of 12 French chateau place mats and a table runner depicting an additional 6 chateaux. It is needle lace that stops us in our tracks; lace so very special that a viewer may forget to breathe!

The present owner's great grandmother purchased this set in a New York City lace shop in 1910 for $2,000. Since then, the family has protected them. All the place mats are enclosed in frames, and the table runner has been sparingly used.

Each chateau is identified within the lace. The plant life surrounding the delicately worked chateaux is appropriate to each. All are different and fun to study.

These were made before the widespread destruction of two World Wars in the 20th C. Present images of the chateaux may be different. After Vi Eastman photographed these laces, it was possible to enlarge them on a computer (only possible in recent years) and see the minutest details. Then, a search chateau-by-chateau was done. A marvelous grand tour of French Chateaux!

If you have any additional information that can be shared, please include in your comments. Specifically value, whether there are other sets of these chateau laces in lace collections, and where/when they were made and by whom.

J. Ames



Chateau de Coucy was destroyed by the Germans in March 1917. It had been built in the 1220's and renovated in the 19th century. On the internet it tells of the dynamiting using 28 tons of explosives. The destruction caused so much public outrage that in April 1917 the ruins were declared “a memorial to barbarity”. War reparations were used to clear the the four smaller towers and to consolidate the walls but the ruins of the keep (largest tower) were left in place. Current photos show the ruins.


Chambord is a royal chateau in the French Renaissance architectural style, built to serve as a hunting lodge for Francois I, who maintained his royal residences at Chateau de Blois and Chateau de Amboise (also featured in this set of lace chateau images). It is the largest chateau in the Loire Valley, and is surrounded by a 13,000 acre wooded park and game reserve. Construction of Chambord begain in 1519. Open to the public.


Chantilly is the site of two attached buildings – the Petit Chateau built around 1560, and the Grand Chateau, which was destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt in the 1870s. Chantilly is owned by the Institut de France and houses one of the finest art galleries in France. The library of the Petit Chateau contains over 1,300 manuscripts (some 200 of which are medieval) and 12,500 printed volumes, including a Gutenberg Bible. This site is open to the public.


Fontainebleau's construction began in the 16th C. during the rule of Francis I. An older chateau on this site was in use in the latter part of the 12th C. This is one of the largest French royal chateaux, and many of France's kings have lived here. Part of the chateau is now home to the Ecoles d'Art Americaines, a school of art, architecture, and music for students from the United States. The school was founded by General Pershing when his men were stationed here during World War I.


Chateau de Sully is approached by an axial stone bridge across its moat. It was built to control one of the few sites where the Loire can be forded, and has perhaps been fortified since Gallo-Roman times, certainly since the early 11th C. The first cylindrical keep's foundation, built in 1218, has been located. As with many chateaux, it was built and restored over the course of several centuries. The chateau of Henry IV's minister, Maximilien de Bethune (1560-1641) and the ducs de Sully, it remains the home of the present duchesse de Magenta and her family. Listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.



Chateau de Chaumont is a castle founded in the 10th century. Louis XI ordered the castle's destruction in 1465. Rebuilding started almost immediately. The castle was acquired by Catherine de Medici in 1550, and it was here that she entertained numerous astrologers, among them Nostradamus. This site has been classified as a Monument historique since 1840 by the French Ministry of Culture. It was donated to the government in 1938, and is currently a museum open to the public.



Outrelaise (in Normandy) was built during the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. It appears to currently be a privately-owned conference center and bed & breakfast.



Maintenon is best known as the private residence of the second spouse of Louis XIV, Madame de Maintenon. Construction began in the 12th century and ended roughly in the 18th century. It is classified as a Monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture. In 2005, the property was given to the Conseil general d'Eure-et-Loir.



Chateau de Luynes – an early castle on this site in the Loire Valley was destroyed in the late 10th or early 11th C. Rebuilding began in the 12th C. This chateau has experienced destruction and rebuilding for centuries. The dukes of Luynes still own the chateau.



Chateau de Bethune was an important 11th C. fortress on the Sauldre River.  Some time after the lace was made (late 19th C.), the name appears to have been changed to Chateau de la Chapelle d'Angillon.  This, and other lace images in this chateau collection are related to the family names of Bethune and Sully, presenting interesting comparisons for historians.  The site is now used for special public and social events, and there is a museum of art objects.


Petit Trianon is a small chateau located on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, constructed by order of Louis XV for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. She died before it was completed, and it was occupied by her successor, Madame du Barry. When Louis XVI became king, he gave the chateau and its surrounding park to his 19-year-old Queen Marie Antoinette for her exclusive use and enjoyment.



Chateau de Blois was the residence of several French kings. It is the place where Joan of Arc went in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before departing with her army to drive the English from Orleans. The multiple buildings were constructed from the 13th to the 17th centuries. It has 564 rooms and 75 staircases. The 16th century library at this site was eventually moved to the royal Chateau de Fontainebleau where it became the royal library that forms the core of the present Bibliotheque Nationale de France.




                                                                 Rambouillet                        Bonnetable


                                Moulin                           Pierrefonds                    Amboise                 Fenelon


East End of Runner – 25” wide (Chateau de Fenelon)


Chateau de Fenelon (east end of table runner) is located in Dordogne, Aquitane, France. It dates from the 13th C., but what is seen today is mostly from 16th C. refurbishments. A combination of Middle Ages fortifications and Renaissance beauty. Furnishings are from the 15th to 18th centuries. Open to the public.



Chateau de Bonnetable was restored in the 1470's by the Norman family d'Hartcourt, after the original 11th C. chateau had been demolished during the 100 years war between Great Britain and France. The chateau has a long history with links to many European royal families. During the 1880's it was extensively renovated in Neo-gothic style, and renovations continue to the present. It is privately owned and not open to the public.



Chateau d' Amboise has a very ancient history, dating back to the 9th C. It is where Mary, Queen of Scots, was raised by Henry II and his wife, Catherine de' Medici. Records show that Leonardo da Vinci was buried in the church of Saint Florentin, part of the Chateau d' Amboise. During the French Revolution the greater part of the chateau was demolished. Rebuilt, since 1840, it has been listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture. Presently, the comte de Paris repairs and maintains the chateau through the Foundation Saint-Louis.



Chateau de Moulin (west end of table runner) was built in 1492 in the Franco-Italian art style. It is surrounded by moats, as can be seen in the lace. It is privately inhabited.


Chateau de Rambouillet was a fortified manor dating back to 1368. In 1783, it became the private property of Louis XVI, who bought it from his cousin as an extension of his hunting grounds. During the French Revolution the chateau was emptied of its furnishings and the gardens and surrounding park fell into neglect. Since the late 19th C., the chateau has become the summer residence of France's Presidents of the Republic.



Chateau de Pierrefonds bears the characteristics of defensive military architecture from the Middle Ages, though it underwent several restorations through the centuries. Classified as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1848. This chateau has often been the “location” for modern films and TV series.

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I live just half an hour from the Château de Sully. What surprises me is the choice of chateaux depicted. Why are some of the more minor chateaux featured, while some of the more major ones absent ? Are there more in the set ? Or other sets ? What is the link between the different chateaux in the lace ? These need to be replaced in the historical and political context to be fully understood. France has a very turbulent history and this is always reflected in all the art forms.

Unless someone were to find the parchment or card patterns on which these laces were made I don't think we will ever know anything about historical context. And even if we had the patterns that might only tell us about the workshop which planned this work. From a lacemaker's and designers point of view the original set posted by J. Ames all have the same border surrounding the images. That tells us that they were conceived as a set. But I much doubt there is any way to know if there were more of them, or why these particular images were selected. For instance, could one find a book of photos or etchings of French chateaux which have illustrations of all these particular ones, and possibly others. That might tell us where the idea came from. So do we have any volunteers to search through a library of architectural images so see if a book might be a source for the design?

J. Ames does not own the laces but was asked to photo and post the images by the owner. But I don't think the current owner was the one who purchased them, but rather a deceased relative. So we can't get directly to the original purchaser to find out what she/he might know about their origin.  This is the problem with lace. Even the best pieces are usually not accompanied by any kind of reliable history of the object.  We don't even know if these were commissioned by the purchaser, or just found among the stock of her/his favorite lace merchant.

From a lace maker's perspective I think what is memorable about J. Ames' photos is the variety and skill, particularly of the vegetation that surrounds the chateau image. Each mat is different in that respect. That much individuality means a lot more working in the planning stage for the designer, and much greater skill in the hands of those who actually made the laces. One assumes that a group of lace makers produced these under the direction of somebody -- either an artist filling a commission or a very high end lace merchant who knew he/she had access to clients who might go for such very high priced superior quality pieces. It is difficult, in fact, to imagine conditions in which these pieces were planned. You would have to have really truly outrageously rich clients to have any expectation of being able to sell these, not to mention access to a designer of sufficient quality, and lace makers with this degree of skill.

The second set of placemats posted by 'cardinal' are surprising in so far as they contain English words : Queen, castle, Mary... 


Your question is interesting and has provoked some response. I want to make sure you are aware of all 3 pages of comments attached to this particular subject matter. Look at the bottom of the page on the left, where there are links to the previous pages of comments.


I am posting here the text of 2 emails to me by J. Ames, who posted the original set of photos. She explains some of the background, with more specificity than I gave.


The original correspondence that followed the original posting of the chateau laces is still available, but perhaps the correspondent from France accessed it a different way.   Some time after I posted the photographic essay, Devon found an old book of French origin in a Boston library that illustrated Outrelaise.  She posted an image with her comments on this site, which I continue to provide to others:
I think the correspondent from France used a much longer address than necessary, and did not see the correspondence from Devon T., Karen T., Patty D., etc.  She might, however, be able to contact someone at the Chateau close to where she lives who could at least tell her if there is something similar to the lace in their collection.  There might be correspondence in their archives!  And the chateau she mentioned is related to two other chateaux depicted in lace (mentioned in my captions) which were occupied by the same old family.
In this case, it is important to keep all the correspondence somewhere in date order and easy to access.  We may have found a way, appealing to people all over the globe, to finally get to the bottom of this mystery.  If we arouse the right people, we may be able (at the same time) to provide provenance for the Columbus set in the Ratti collection at The Met.  I am thinking of calling attention to this lace mystery by contacting EGA, which teaches needle lace.  As a member for 47 years, I hope they might "listen", and they have a broader base of members who may have traveled or seen something similar.  Do you have any reason why I should not share with EGA? "

J. Ames 2nd email:


Katherine Brittain, who is interested, might find today's correspondence helpful, and you may share what you wish from this letter with her, and on the Ning site.  Please be sure she is reading from the address given in my first letter today, so she sees all comments to date. 
You will remember that I went on-line to research each Chateau, and some information was not available in English, so I consulted with a friend, who does French-to-English translations for OIDFA: de l'Organisation Internationale de la Dentelle au Fuseau et à l'Aiguille (International Bobbin and Needle Lace Organisation).    In the end, I wrote all the captions, trying to keep them short so as not to drive away mildly-interested readers.
Right in the caption I wrote for Chateau de Sully it mentions Maximilien de Bethune  and the ducs de Sully.  Further on in the text, you find Chateau de Bethune, so a tie between the two.  A second example is Chambord's caption, a Chateau which was for Francois I, who maintained royal residences at Chateau de Blois and Chateau d' Amboise.  All three of these Chateaux are depicted in the set.  Etc.
We have not studied French history, but I imagine there were probably generations of arranged marriages between all these families.  (You know - the practice of marrying the eldest son of one family to the eldest daughter of another to preserve wealth and titles through inheritance.)  Possible connections right up to the time the laces were made might be minor blood lines that link all the Chateaux to the same family origin.
Remember that we decided to put a complete photo essay on Ning because print space in the International Organization of Lace Inc. bulletin is quite limited and the entire set is one glorious example of what some lace making women made.  In all probability, they never saw the assembled placemats and table runner, because of the custom of keeping designs secret.  We immediately see that each piece was worked by several people (a French needle lace making custom, which lists over a dozen specialties), if only because of the threads used and the differences on each piece between the cameo center, surrounding flora, and the final common edgings.  "

Devon also has some input, which I hope to see posted here shortly.

This is an interesting correspondence that Katherine Britton has started, and perhaps her proximity to the Chateau de Sully may help to move the inquiry further. Jeri notes that there are a few chateaux that are owned by the same family, the Bethune family. If the set were made especially for that family that might explain why a minor chateau or chateaux were included. One thought is that maybe Katherine Britton could visit the Chateau de Sully. I think it quite likely that they have many prints and drawings of the chateau in the collection and if she finds one that corresponds to the one on the placemat we may be able to pin point another design source. When I found the print of the other chateau in a book I thought that perhaps they were all based on drawings from that book, but I don't think that theory panned out. 

Katherine Britton, what chateaux are you thinking should have been included but were not?

I have been thinking about the entire design process that might have resulted in the choice of some chateaux over others and I have a few ideas, although not verified, of course.

A few years ago I made a point of staying in a B& B  called Relais Ca' Maffio just outside Venice because it advertised the availability of seeing a lace collection that was part of the Jesurum lace business. The Jesurum lace business, which was undoubtedly the source for many fantastic table cloths and American Sets as the placemats were known, was sold to the Levi Morenos family, relatives of the Jesurums, in 1939. The B & B is owned by the Levi Morenos family. At the time I visited, there was a young couple with a small child who ran the establishment. The young husband's father also lived on the premises and he had the lace collection which he was kind enough to show to me. It consisted of some samples of lace, including the rather interesting polychrome, a fantastic table cloth based on sea mythology, and another based on sort of an animals of the world theme. Interestingly, I recognized in this needle lace table cloth design elements that I had seen rendered more crudely in bobbin lace in a piece at the Cooper-Hewitt and in Valenciennes in a photograph in Tresor d l'art Dentellier, by Carlier de Lantsheere, plate 9, where it says it symbolizes the Creation of Paradise by God the Father. This needle lace rendition was really beautiful and the best that I have seen with all sorts of unusual and exotic animals in exquisitely executed technique. This certainly raises a lot of interesting questions about whether these pieces all came from the same source, although in three different lace disciplines or whether there was borrowing from older, historical pieces, or whether there was a bit of borrowing between different lace manufacturers. Clearly there were different levels of quality of execution, as we see in the two different chateau lace sets.  Then, there were many, many boxes of collars dating from the late 19th or early 20th century, in mint condition,that I imagined were unsold stock. 

Both men had worked in the Jesurum business, the older gentleman's experience dating from possibly the 1960s. By that time the company had become mainly a purveyor of embroidered table cloths, place mats, napkins, etc. I asked the older gentleman about the design process. He actually had an example of a technical drawing for a table cloth that he had worked on, possibly a floral or bird theme that he showed me. He said that someone in management would get an idea for a table cloth. They would call in the artists. I get the impression there might have been one or two artists. They would explain the idea to the artists and the artists would go away and design. Then the artists would present the various designs to management and management would tweak them, saying they liked this or that, but to leave out something or add something. Eventually the design would be complete and it would go into production. 

My theory about how the chateau placemats were designed is sort of along these lines. I think that someone had the idea of making a set of chateau placemats for Americans to buy as souvenirs of their trip to Europe, or even to buy in the US as part of the US love affair with Europe that was occurring in the years 1880-1920 roughly. As Katherine Britton points out, the language used in one of the sets appears to be English. Perhaps the designers consulted a variety of sources for inspiration, including prints, etchings, paintings and photographs. I think the prints and etchings are handy for a designer because they have already translated the chateau into a black and white image where texture is provided with line. Also, a pleasing perspective would have been selected, and perhaps unsightly distractions that might appear in a photograph would have been excluded. But, I am sure a professional designer wouldn't need to find the perfect etching to do such a design.

One reason that some more famous chateaux might have been neglected is that they may not have translated nicely into lace, or it may have been difficult to find a view of them that would fit into the outline that they are all fit into. I looked up photos of a few of the chateaux in the series on the internet, and it was actually hard sometimes to tell if it was the same chateau if you were not looking at it at exactly the same angle as the lace rendition. So, perhaps some more famous chateaux were eliminated because the resulting design didn't look pleasing. Another thought is that what chaeaux Americans would find to be interesting my change over time. For instance, if there were a minor chateau that was home to a person that Americans were currently idolizing, a political figure, a movie star, it might be an interesting inclusion. Also, some chateaux may experience greater or lesser popularity due to whether the owner, or possibly the government, is promoting the chateau to tourists, and spending money restoring it, For instance, Villandry, one of my favorite Loire chateaux is not included. But, I think that it rose to a high level of prominence after being purchased in 1906 by Joachim Carvallo who poured a tremendous amount of money into restoring its Renaissance gardens. 

Perhaps someone who is more in tune with French history may see some connection that I have missed and I would love to hear it. 

I would like to include a shout-out for Relais Ca' Maffio . I linked the page explaining about the lace collection to the name here. I recommend it to lace enthusiasts. Even if you do not get to see the special lace collection, the walls of the B & B are covered with framed pieces of lace from the business. Some may be old, some may be reproduction pieces made by Jesurum, adding even more to the confusion we all feel when trying to differentiate between them. The hospitality was great. The breakfasts were scrumptious. The hosts were very gracious. As I recall, we used it as a base for exploring the Palladian Villas of the Veneto. Good times!

Devon Thein said:

This is an interesting correspondence that Katherine Britton has started, and perhaps her proximity to the Chateau de Sully may help to move the inquiry further. Jeri notes that there are a few chateaux that are owned by the same family, the Bethune family. If the set were made especially for that family that might explain why a minor chateau or chateaux were included. One thought is that maybe Katherine Britton could visit the Chateau de Sully. I think it quite likely that they have many prints and drawings of the chateau in the collection and if she finds one that corresponds to the one on the placemat we may be able to pin point another design source. When I found the print of the other chateau in a book I thought that perhaps they were all based on drawings from that book, but I don't think that theory panned out. 


A fascinating account.

This morning I printed off a rough map of France divided up into the départements. Then I put a little red cross for each castle in it's respective département (though I have not been more accurate than this !). There is a group of castles around the Paris area and a second group around the eastern end of the Loire valley. This second group stretches from Sully to Amboise. Thus all the chateaux from the western end that one would expect to be included are in fact excluded. There is no trace of Villandry, Azay le Rideau, Ussé, Angers or Chinon. There is one odd man out : one castle is in the Dordogne area. My theory is that the designer worked from chateaux that he or she was used to being around : Paris, half the Loire valley chateaux and one in Dordogne. The geographical proximity of the chateaux one to another explains secondarily their family ties.

Strangely enough the lace centre at Puy en Velay is going to be running an exhibition on Jean Chaleyé who was an artist who designed for lace around the time of these mats and who did a lot on vegetation. When trying to research him his name seems also to come up as Johannès Chaleyé sometimes.

Next I will make a visit to the Chateau de Sully and check out some of my father's museum type books.

What time period are we actually looking at ?? I just wondered whether the French Prussian war of 1870 / 71 might have had some influence or was that too early ?

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