Shawabty

Egyptian
New Kingdom (?), Dynasty 18–20
1550–1070 B.C.


Dimensions

Height x width x thickness: 20 x 6.6 x 4.7 cm (7 7/8 x 2 5/8 x 1 7/8 in.)

Accession Number

72.748

Medium or Technique

Limestone

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This limestone shawabty depicts a mummiform figure with arms crossed at chest holding implements of field work, a broad hoe in the left hand and a narrow hoe or a pick in the right, plus a trapezoidal bag in each. The figure wears a triparte wig with incised lines denoting tresses. Nine horizontal bands of black painted heiroglyphic text (portion of larger text which has not survived due to wear) are carried on the legs, recording a version of the “Shawabty Spell” for the owner. Incised detailing is slightly worn; otherwise the shawabty is intact.

An ancient Egyptian shawabty is a funerary figurine that was intended to magically animate in the Afterlife in order to act as a proxy for the deceased when called upon to tend to field labor or other tasks. This expressed purpose was sometimes written on the shawabty itself in the form of a “Shawabty Spell,” of which versions of various length are known. Shorter shawabty inscriptions could also just identify the deceased by name and, when applicable, title(s). However, many shawabtys carry no text at all. The ideal number of such figurines to include in a tomb or burial seems to have varied during different time periods.

Provenance

By 1836: Robert Hay Collection, Linplum, Scotland; 1863: to his son, Robert James Alexander Hay; 1868-1872: Way Collection, Boston (purchased by Samuel A. Way through London dealers Rollin and Feuardent, 27 Haymarket); 1872: given to the MFA by Samuel's son, C. Granville Way. (Accession date: June 28, 1872)

Credit Line

Hay Collection—Gift of C. Granville Way