Shawabty

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


Dimensions

Height x width: 14.3 x 4.4 cm (5 5/8 x 1 3/4 in.)

Accession Number

72.4095

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of brown wood is covered entirely with a coating of bitumen, now cracked and abraded, producing a rough surface. The figure is characteristically mummiform in shape, wearing a tripartite wig. Hands are crossed and opposed. There are some indications that they were shown holding implements. However, there are no signs to indicate hieroglyphic text was applied to the figure, though this is possible.The front of the foot has broken away and is missing.

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. (June 28, 1872)

Credit Line

Hay Collection—Gift of C. Granville Way