Shawabty

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


Dimensions

Height x width: 17.4 x 4.7 cm (6 7/8 x 1 7/8 in.)

Accession Number

72.1660

Medium or Technique

Pottery

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of uniform reddish brown, unglazed clay is somewhat roughly modelled, but well smoothed. It is mummiform in shape, wearing a tripartite wig. Well modelled arms are crossed right over left on the chest chest. Each hand holds an implement of field work. The right hand grasps a hoe, while the left hand holds a pick, hoe, or whip. No traces of color remain, and there is little detailing.

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