Shawabty

Egyptian
New Kingdom, likely Dynasty 18
1550–1295 B.C.


Dimensions

Height x width: 15.5 x 4.1 cm (6 1/8 x 1 5/8 in.)

Accession Number

72.1669

Medium or Technique

Pottery

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of brownish pottery is a mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig. Traces of white paint suggest most surfaces were once covered, though now mostly worn away. The shawabty’s face and hands retain traces of reddish-brown, and the wig was painted black. Arms are crossed over the chest, right over left. There is a faint vertical band down front of legs with slight remnants of hieroglyphic text in white, little of which can be made out.

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