Shawabty

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


Dimensions

Height x width: 8.9 x 3.1 cm (3 1/2 x 1 1/4 in.)

Accession Number

72.1745

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This faience shawabty has a deep blue glaze that has preserved well on all surfaces. It depicts a mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig and false beard. Some facial details have been accented in black. Hands are crossed and opposed on the chest and holding implements of field work that have been incised into the surface. A hoe is distinct on the right side, and on the left likely a cord for a bag held over the shoulder. Six horizontal bands of hieroglyphic text are painted in black from the waist down with black dividing lines. Some of the text has worn/faded.

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: Jne 28, 1872)

Credit Line

Hay Collection—Gift of C. Granville Way