Shawabty with ba-bird
New Kingdom, Dynasty 19
height x width (max): 15.5 x 4.7 cm (6 1/8 x 1 7/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Out on Loan
On display at Houston Museum of Natural Science, TX, May 17, 2013 – June 30, 2018
This shawabty of limestone depicts a mummiform figure with a ba-bird outstretched on the chest. Crossed and opposed hands hold implements of field work: a hoe in the right and either a pick or a hoe in the left. The figure wears a tripartite wig with bands at the ends of front lappets. Legs are covered in horizontal bands of incised hieroglyphic text. An empty space intended for the insertion of the owner’s name indicates mass production. The name of an owner would have been expected, but was not applied in this case. Remnants of black paint appear on the wig of both the shawabty figure itself and the ba-bird, and an area of blue is evident on the body of the bird.
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.
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)
Hay Collection—Gift of C. Granville Way