Shawabty

Egyptian
Likely New Kingdom, Dynasty 18–20
1349–1070 B.C.


Accession Number

RES.72.81

Medium or Technique

Wood

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Shawabties and shawabty boxes

This shawabty of light brown wood depicts a figure wearing a tripartite wig and the dress of the living, including a flaring kilt/skirt. Arms are modelled as though folded and bundled beneath fabric with little suggestion of hands. Traces of painted decoration remain in many areas. The garment is mostly white with a concentration of yellow on the arms and in a central column down the front of the kilt. This column is bordered by reddish lines and contains black painted hieroglyphic text, now much worn. The wig is painted black, as are accents to some facial details. The shawabty’s feet extend in a peg-like manner below the kilt, but integrated painted decoration suggests this is meant to be the foot of the figure as opposed to a functional peg for attachment to a composite object (i.e. coffin, box, shrine, or the like).

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