Shawabty

Egyptian
New Kingdom, likely Dynasty 19–20
1295–1070 B.C.


Dimensions

Height x width: 24.7 x 6.3 cm (9 3/4 x 2 1/2 in.)

Accession Number

72.4110

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of light brown wood retains slight traces of white priming, black, and reddish brown paint. It depicts a mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig. Its arms are crossed left over right on the chest. The left hand holds a broad hoe, while the right holds a narrower hoe (implements of field work for use in the Afterlife). Nine horizontal bands of incised hieroglyphic text appear on the legs, recording a version of the “Shawabty Spell.” The figure’s face is in slightly battered and cracked condition, but otherwise intact.

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