Shawabty

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


Accession Number

RES.72.33

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This wooden shawabty is coated almost entirely with bitumen. It is a mummiform figure of slender proportions wearing a wig, likely of tripartite style. Hands appear to be crossed over the chest with possible indications of yellow painted hands crossed and opposed. There are additional indications of black, yellow, white, and reddish-orange paint from beneath the bituminous coating. The shawabty’s facial features are accented with black paint. The surface exhibits several small chips.

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 18, 1872)

Credit Line

Hay Collection—Gift of C. Granville Way