Shabty of Pa
Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art
On View: Funerary Gallery 2, Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Gallery, 3rd Floor
The Egyptians manufactured funerary figurines, originally called shabties, as early as Dynasty 12 (1932–1759 B.C.E.). The earliest shabties are inscribed with either the deceased’s name (see nos. 1 and 2) or a simple form of Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead. The rarity and high quality of the early shabties suggest that they were costly items produced for privileged persons.
Later, Chapter 6 began appearing more frequently on funerary figurines. The text mentions that they do agricultural tasks for the dead person: irrigating the fields, cultivating crops, and clearing away sand that blew in from the nearby desert.
As substitutes for the deceased, these figurines were sometimes given their own sarcophagi (see no. 6). To emphasize the agricultural function of the figurines, hoes and grain baskets were added to them (no. 8).
Wood (nos. 9–11), stone (nos. 12–14, 16), faience (no. 17), metal, and other materials were used beginning in Dynasty 18. By the end of the New Kingdom, statuettes for a single person were often mold-made by the hundreds and even thousands. Faience became the medium of choice, first in blue and later in light green or light blue (nos. 17, 20, 21).
Limestone, pigment, gold
ca. 1352-1279 B.C.E.
late Dynasty 18 to early Dynasty 19
7 5/8 x 6 1/2 x 1 9/16 in. (19.4 x 16.5 x 4 cm) (show scale)
Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
One uninscribed limestone shawabti. This shawabti appears in the garment of the living. Arms crossed on the breast and with head slightly bowed; he sports a heavily pleated shawl and protruding 2 piece kilt (triangular). The kilt panel is also pleated, the pleats running vertically, interrupted by a panel down the lower front which at one time bore an inscription (now effaced). Over the top shawl the figure wears a broad collar. Covering the ears and falling to the level of the shoulders is a wig composed of braided strands of hair. Two lapets of this wig fall on to the shoulders. The wig is topped by a circlet. This is composed of a band and a lotus petal ornament which spans the crown of the head and terminates above the brow. The face is summarily modelled. The feet wear sandals. The figure is highly polychromed. The skin is red-brown, the hair black, the broad collar red/brown, green, yellow, and blue. The hieroglyphs are red-brown. The circlet is gilded.
Condition: Broken at the level of the ankles and repaired by the insertion of pins and shellac. The face is much rubbed, the red brown paint is missing from the brow and central face. The arms have lost most red brown paint. The broad collar is flaking in spots. The feet are missing most of their paint. The black paint on the lapets is mostly gone and the blue frit underlay is exposed. The circlet and lotus blossom are much worn.
Shabty of Pa, ca. 1352-1279 B.C.E. Limestone, pigment, gold, 7 5/8 x 6 1/2 x 1 9/16 in. (19.4 x 16.5 x 4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.148E. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, CUR.37.148E_wwgA-3.jpg)
installation, West Wing gallery A-3 installation, CUR.37.148E_wwgA-3.jpg
. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2005
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Why are their hands around their chest?
This pose indicates that they represent the dead and served to identify them with the god Osiris, the king of the afterlife. The is referred to by Egyptologists as mummiform--mummy shaped--or, especially in the case of a king, Osiride--Osiris-like.
Shabties like these would be placed in the tomb. They're essentially servants to the deceased, who would perform tasks like farming for them in the afterlife.