Shawabty and shawabty coffin
New Kingdom, Dynasty 18
Height x width x depth (coffin): 23.5 x 8.8 x 9 cm (9 1/4 x 3 7/16 x 3 9/16 in.) height x width x depth (shawabty): 25.5 x 7.4 x 4.3 cm (10 1/16 x 2 15/16 x 1 11/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Painted wood (possibly acacia)
Not On View
This set of objects is comprised of a miniature coffin and shawabty figurine, both of painted wood. The decorative scheme on both items uses white to imitate mummy wrappings. The coffin is of anthropoid shape. It has a band of black painted cursive hieroglyphic text running down the center in a yellow strip with black border lines. Four similar strips without text cross the central band perpendicularly at intervals. Tripartite wigs on both the coffin and the shawabty retain traces of blue pigment, and the facial features of both have been accented with black. The face of the shawabty is painted yellow. Its hands are crossed right over left on the chest with indications of sleeves, and do not appear to be holding any implements. The shawabty is also inscribed with six bands of incised hieroglyphic text on the front from waist to ankles, with an additional single column down the back. The inscription records a version of the “Shawabty Spell.” The text contains two minor scribal errors. Text of both shawabty and coffin identify the owner as Mesnefer (Ms-nfr). The bottom portions of both upper and lower coffin elements are in battered condition with some fragments 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. As with the current example, a shawabty could be provided with its own coffin.
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