The Legend of Czar Saltan

The Legend of Czar Saltan

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In the 20th century, women’s hobbies included embroidery techniques such as needlepoint and crewel.
This very large and impressive embroidered wall hanging depicts “The Legend of Czar Saltan.” The czar sits in an elaborately decorated wooden chair. He wears a jeweled crown on his silvery hair, and his long flowing silvery beard covers a part of an elaborately embroidered robe. This scene is on a balcony overlooking a walled village with onion-domed buildings, some with crosses on top, a lake with an island, and mountains beyond. Across the top of the picture are clouds, and the initials “e b r 1951-53" are embroidered near the right lower corner. The ground is linen twill and the threads are silk floss, wool, and metallic. The stitches are split, satin, long and short, outline, stem, laid and couched, wrapped loop, brick, seed, closed fly, French knots, chain, buttonhole, and herringbone. Glass and plastic jewels are also used.
The legend is a well-known Russian fairy tale, and is the same story on which Pushkin based a dramatic poem used in turn by Rimsky-Korsakov for his Le Coq d'Or Suite. (The Golden Cockerel Suite.) In some versions, Czar Saltan is called King Dodon, but in all accounts he was given the Golden Cockerel by his Royal Astrologer. The Czar set the cockerel up in the palace as a weather vane. When danger approached, the cockerel warned the Czar by crowing. Apparently the cockerel does give advance warning of impending danger on several occasions, and eventually the Astrologer claims his payment. Some versions of the legend say that the Czar's wife was promised to the Astrologer, while others say that it was his daughter. In any case, the Czar refused to make good on his promise and when the astrologer demanded his fee, the Czar struck him with his scepter and killed him. At this point, the Golden Cockerel flew down from his perch and pierced the Czar's skull with his beak, killing him.
The wall hanging was worked on a roller embroidery frame built by Cornelius Van S. Roosevelt, son of Eleanor and Theodore Roosevelt II. Cornelius drew the design on the linen in 1937. It took Mrs. Roosevelt many years to assemble all the materials and she didn't begin working on it until 1951. It was during the long interval between 1937 and 1951 that R. H. Macy & Co., in New York, helped run tests on the various metallic threads to see if they would tarnish. Over a period of many years, Mrs. Roosevelt determined which wools and silks were color fast, and these she used to stitch this piece and a companion one.
Eleanor Butler Alexander was born on December 26, 1888, to Henry and Grace Green Alexander in New York city. She married Theodore Roosevelt II (1887-1944) on 20 June 1910, and they had four children: Grace, Theodore III, Cornelius V. S. and Quentin. She died on May 29, 1960, at Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York.
Object Name
embroidered picture
date made
Roosevelt, Eleanor Butler Alexander
place made
United States: New York, Oyster Bay
Physical Description
linen twill (ground material)
silk (thread material)
metallic (thread material)
linen (thread material)
overall: 54 3/4 in x 69 3/4 in; 139.065 cm x 177.165 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Cornelius Van S. Roosevelt
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Textiles
Embroidered Pictures
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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