Shawabty

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


Dimensions

Height x width: 16.8 x 5 cm (6 5/8 x 1 15/16 in.)

Accession Number

72.1664

Medium or Technique

Pottery

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of reddish clay is a mummiform figure wearing a black tripartite wig. It has a thick coat of white paint in imitation of linen bandages. Its arms are crossed right over left on the chest. The right hand holds a broad hoe against the shoulder. If an object wad rendered in the left hand, it is now indistinct due to wear. A column of hieroglyphic text has been applied in black down the front of the legs, enclosed by reddish-brown border lines. Face and hands are painted reddish-brown with facial detailing in black and white. Strands of a broad pectoral collar/necklace are painted reddish-brown, likely on a yellowish background. Traces of similar background are detected in the text column. The shawabty was broken through the ankles but has been mended.

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