Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again…*
My obsession with Humpty Dumpty is both visual philosophical in nature. I am drawn to the famous egg visually, through his numerous portrayals in children’s books. His ovoid shape and cephalic body create a disconcerting strangeness that is hard to forget. Often styled with an equally strange grimace his impact on impressionable children is assured. One of the more famous portrayals is that by John Tenniel in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking-Glass (1872). Tenniel’s version of Humpty Dumpty with his wide slit mouth and creepy arched brows has stuck with me and penetrated many of my own characters in my paintings.
Aside from being physically creepy Humpty is also an egg. Frail, vulnerable and awkward he becomes a perfect symbol for the existential human. We are in constant state of alert when it comes to self-preservation and safety, something Humpty took too lightly. I often insert Humpty into my paintings as a symbolic representation of myself. Sometime he is just included as a frail human witness participating in my jumbled scenarios. He becomes a sympathetic entity that the viewer can hopefully identify with.
* The rhyme does not explicitly state that the subject is an egg, possibly because it may have been originally posed as a riddle. There are also various theories of an original “Humpty Dumpty”. One, advanced by Katherine Elwes Thomas in 1930 and adopted by Robert Ripley, posits that Humpty Dumpty is King Richard III of England, depicted as humpbacked in Tudor histories and particularly in Shakespeare’s play, and who was defeated, despite his armies, at Bosworth Field in 1485.
Professor David Daube suggested in The Oxford Magazine of 16 February 1956 that Humpty Dumpty was a “tortoise” siege engine, an armoured frame, used unsuccessfully to approach the walls of the Parliamentary held city of Gloucester in 1643 during the Siege of Gloucester in the English Civil War. This was on the basis of a contemporary account of the attack, but without evidence that the rhyme was connected. The theory was part of an anonymous series of articles on the origin of nursery rhymes and was widely acclaimed in academia, but it was derided by others as “ingenuity for ingenuity’s sake” and declared to be a spoof. The link was nevertheless popularised by a children’s opera All the King’s Men by Richard Rodney Bennett, first performed in 1969.
From 1996, the website of the Colchester tourist board attributed the origin of the rhyme to a cannon recorded as used from the church of St Mary-at-the-Wall by the Royalist defenders in the siege of 1648. In 1648, Colchester was a walled town with a castle and several churches and was protected by the city wall. The story given was that a large cannon, which the website claimed was colloquially called Humpty Dumpty, was strategically placed on the wall. A shot from a Parliamentary cannon succeeded in damaging the wall beneath Humpty Dumpty which caused the cannon to tumble to the ground. The Royalists (or Cavaliers, “all the King’s men”) attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty on to another part of the wall, but the cannon was so heavy that “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again”. Author Albert Jack claimed in his 2008 book Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes that there were two other verses supporting this claim. Elsewhere, he claimed to have found them in an “old dusty library, an even older book”, but did not state what the book was or where it was found. It has been pointed out that the two additional verses are not in the style of the seventeenth century or of the existing rhyme, and that they do not fit with the earliest printed versions of the rhyme, which do not mention horses and men. – source Wikipedia