Shawabty

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


Dimensions

Height x width: 25.1 x 7.3 cm (9 7/8 x 2 7/8 in.)

Accession Number

72.4086

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This wooden shawabty is an elaborately carved mummiform figure wearing a detailed duplex wig. Its hands are crossed and opposed, holding implements of field work: a hoe in each hand. Traces of black coating (paint or bitumen) appear on many surfaces. A central vertical line of incised hieroglyphic text has been applied on the back, with seven horizontal bands around the legs. The surface is heavily worn, and some insect damage is evident.

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