Shawabty

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


Accession Number

RES.72.58

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of brown wood retains a substantial bitumen coating, now variously caked and flaking in some areas. It depicts a mummiform figure wearing a tripartite wig. Arms are folded upon the chest, modelled as though bundled beneath wrappings. No hands are evident. The black coating obscures whether the shawabty was originally intended to be shown holding any objects. There ae no clear indications of painted decoration or text applied to original surfaces. A portion of the foot is broken off and missing.

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