Shawabty

Egyptian
New Kingdom, Dynasty 18–20
1550–1070 B.C.


Dimensions

Height x width: 20.6 x 5.7 cm (8 1/8 x 2 1/4 in.)

Accession Number

72.4102

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty is carved of a heavy, brown wood. It has areas of purple-black staining, possibly from a coat of bitument now mostly worn away. It is a mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig. Hands are crossed and opposed on the chest with sleeves indicated. There are no obvious indications that the hands are holding any implements. A vertical line of incised hieroglyphics has been applied on the front and back, recording a short version of the “Shawabty Spell.” The shawabty is in somewhat cracked condition, with some small fragments missing from the feet.

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