Shawabty

Egyptian
New Kingdom or later Dynasty 18–24
1349–712 B.C.


Dimensions

Height x width x depth: 8.6 x 3.1 x 5 cm (3 3/8 x 1 1/4 x 1 15/16 in.)

Accession Number

72.1615

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This faience shawabty retains only small areas of its original light blue glaze. Most areas have been worn or flaked down to the underlying brown paste. The object depicts a figure wearing a tripartite wig and the dress of the living, particularly a pronounced, flaring kilt/skirt. Hands are crossed over the chest. Modelling is rough, and details are minimal.

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