Shawabty

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


Accession Number

RES.72.57

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of light brown wood has peg-like proportions somewhat similar to “stick” shawabtys except for slightly broader, modelled shoulder area. The shape is essentially the outline of a mummiform figure. The torso and head are in battered state, such that the degree of original modeling of details is unclear. Remnants of a vertical band of yellow painted hieroglyphic text with border lines appear down the front of the figure’s “legs.” Traces of yellow on the upper portion may indicate some degree of painted detailing for the arms and/or torso. A fragment is broken away from the foot. There is also some splitting in the wood.

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