Shawabty

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


Dimensions

Height x width: 18.3 x 5.7 cm (7 3/16 x 2 1/4 in.)

Accession Number

72.4106

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty is carved of brown wood. Much of the surface was originally covered with white ground in imitation of linen bandages, now worn away in many areas. There is some brown staining on the back. It is a mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig, painted black except for ties at the ends of front lappets. The hands are crossed an opposed on the chest. Both the hands and face are painted brown with facial details also accented in black. Hands are shown holding implements of field work, a black-painted hoe in each. Much of the torso is covered by a yellow, red, and black design depicting an elaborate beaded necklace of at least eight strands. On the legs, six horizontal bands of black painted hieroglyphic text appear on a yellow ground with red dividing lines. The text records a version of the “Shawabty Spell” for the owner, whose name is now partly destroyed. It may have read as an odd spelling of the name Pa-Amen (?). A fragment of lower legs and feet is broken away and missing, taking some of the text.

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