Shawabty

Egyptian
New Kingdom, Dynasty 18–20
1349–1070 B.C.


Dimensions

Height x width: 17.1 x 5.7 cm (6 3/4 x 2 1/4 in.)

Accession Number

72.1613

Medium or Technique

Pottery

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of light brown clay depicts a figure who wears a tripartite wig and the attire of the living, most notably a long, flaring skirt/kilt. Modelling is extremely awkward and irregular. Facial details are barely indicated. Traces of white priming are evident in various areas. Remnants of painted decoration are evident at the neck where bands of orange-red and black likely represent a pectoral collar. The figure’s arms are shown held forward and resting on the front of the legs. The shawabty shows much wear.

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