Shawabty

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


Dimensions

Height x width: 20.6 x 7 cm (8 1/8 x 2 3/4 in.)

Accession Number

72.4105

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty, carved of a light wood, depicts a mummiform figure entirely covered with white paint (likely meant to mimic linen bandages). Arms are crossed opposite over the chest and holding implements of field work (a hoe in each hand). The figure wears a duplex wig, painted black. Facial detailing is also rendered in black. The hoes are pained red. A column of hieroglyphic text has been painted in black centrally on legs with red & black border lines, identifying the owner as a “Scribe of the Treasury” (personal name indistinct due to wear). The face and small areas of body are in slightly battered condition.

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