Shawabty

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


Accession Number

RES.72.36

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This wooden shawabty retains substantial amounts of a bitumen coating. It is a mummiform figure with sharp lines, wearing tripartite wig. Its arms are folded over chest (blocky modeling) as though bundled under wrappings with no indications of hands. The black coating obscures whether the shawabty was originally intended to be shown holding implements or if any painted decoration or text was applied. A small fragment has broken off from the foot.

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