Shawabty

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


Dimensions

Height x width: 19.7 x 5.7 cm (7 3/4 x 2 1/4 in.)

Accession Number

72.4090

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty is carved of dark brown wood and retains traces of a bitumen coating over its entirety. It depicts a characteristic mummiform figure with a tripartite wig. Hands appear croosed and opposed on the chest. No hieroglyphic text is evident, and the bitumen coating obscure if any painted decoration was applied beneath. The shawabty is in generally worn 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.

Credit Line

Hay Collection—Gift of C. Granville Way