Shawabty

Egyptian
Late Period, Dynasty 26–30
664–332 B.C.


Dimensions

Height x width: 17.4 x 5 cm (6 7/8 x 1 15/16 in.)

Accession Number

72.1682

Medium or Technique

Faience

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This faience shawabty has slight traces of greenish glaze remaining, particularly on feet and upper head. It is in the classic Late Period form which is characterized by tripartite wig, long false beard, back pillar, and rectangular base. The hands are crossed right over left with sleeves indicated, holding implements of field work. They hold a pick on the right shoulder and hoe and cord to a small seed bag on the left. Seven bands of incised hieroglyphic text with dividing lines appear on the legs, recording a version of the “Shawabty Spell” for the owner. This shawabty is in generally worn and battered condition, with damage obscuring some of the text. It was once broken but has been mended.

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