Shawabty

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


Accession Number

RES.73.2

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This is a poorly preserved shawabty of dull gray-brown wood, depicting a mummiform figure wearing tripartite wig. Arms are bent inwards and crossed at chest, though precise orientation of the hands is unclear. Preservation of painted decoration is very good. There is an overall white ground. The wig is painted black. A beaded necklace/collar of about seven strands is painted black and orange-red. A pattern on the wrappings/garment of the shawabty is rendered with orange-red lines. There are indications of yellow on the face and arms, with some facial details accented in black. Six horizontal bands of black painted hieroglyphic text with red dividing lines appear on the legs, recording a short version of the “Shawabty Spell” for the owner. The shawabty is in generally battered and cracked condition with a large right portion of the head, torso, arm, and feet broken away 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