Shawabty

Egyptian
New Kingdom, late Dynasty 18–20
1390–1070 B.C.


Dimensions

Height x width: 19.6 x 4.7 cm (7 11/16 x 1 7/8 in.)

Accession Number

72.4104

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty is carved of light brown wood. It retains traces of white priming and yellow ground (though the yellow coloration may in actuality result from the degradation of the white). It depicts a mummiform figure wearing black tripartite wig. AIts hands are crossed and opposed on the chest. Traces of reddish brown appear on the hands, each of which is shown holding a hoe (implements of field work for use in the afterlife), also painted in black. Some details are added in dark green. Down the front of the legs, a column of black-painted hieroglyphic text with reddish brown border lines refers to the owner of the figure as “the Illuminated One, Osiris […remaining text worn away and unreadable].”

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