Shabty of an Unknown Person
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).
ca. 1352-1292 B.C.E.
late Dynasty 18
Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
Shabty of an Unknown Person, ca. 1352-1292 B.C.E. Limestone, 11 9/16 in. (29.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 60.97.1. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 60.97.1_NegA_bw_SL4.jpg)
overall, 60.97.1_NegA_bw_SL4.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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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.
Tell me more.
These figurines were inscribed to the person they were buried with and were thought to come to life in order to help with chores, especially agricultural tasks.
They came in a wide range of qualities, from customized and individualized (the most expensive) to mold made and mass produced.