Shawabty

Egyptian
Late Period, Dynasty 26–30
664–332 B.C.


Dimensions

Height x width: 19 x 5.4 cm (7 1/2 x 2 1/8 in.)

Accession Number

72.1680

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This faience shawabty appears to have once had a light green to blue-green glaze, most of which has down to the underlying buff to brown paste. Only slight remnants of glaze are evident, particularly on the feet and torso. The shawabty is a characteristically mummiform figure on rectangular base. It wears a tripartite wig and false beard, both with incised detailing that includes bands at the ends of the front lappets of hair. Facial details are well modelled. Its arms are not rendered in full, but rather shown bundled as though beneath linen wrappings. The are crossed over the chest with well modelled hands shown holding implements of agricultural field work (one pick, one hoe, and a cord for a bag/basket over one shoulder). Eight horizontal bands of incised hieroglyphic text with dividing lines are carried on the waist and legs. Aside from the surface wear, the shawabty is perfect condition.

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