CULTURA: Ancient Egypt
PERIOD: New Kingdom, 1550 - 1070 BC
DIMENSIONS: Height 12 cm
PROVENANCE: Private collection of Dr. L.Benguerel Godó, Barcelona, acquired in London in the 1960s.
CONDITION: In a good general state of preservation. The lower half of the piece is missing. Part of the red faience from the right hand is missing.
This ushabti figure represents a worker, given that he holds two hoes so as to be able to work in the fields of Osiris in the otherworld. He is wearing a tripartite wig that falls down between his shoulder blades. A broad collar, a usekh, lies over his chest. His mummiform shroud covers his entire body apart from his hands which are crossed over his chest and hold the already-mentioned agricultural tools.
In most cases faience of one colour is used for an ushabti, with the details and the hieroglyphics marked out in black. But in very few occasions examples have been found where various types of faience have been used, and so due to their composition, they have resulted in one colour and another decorating the same ushabti. This is one of those cases. Three types of faience have been used: blue for the hair, hoes and hieroglyphics, red for the flesh, visible in the face and hands, and white for the shroud. The use of black for the broad collar is of note.
There are three horizontal registers on the front of the body with hieroglyphics. At the back these join up with a vertical register. The inscriptions are as follows:
The horizontal ones: “
“Glorified be the Osiris of the foreman PtahSeched (glorified be Ptah). He says: Oh this ushabti, if you recognise (the noble….) to do all the work (…)”.
The vertical register:
“(…) (to transport the) sand from east to west (…)”.
Ushabti were made from one original bi-valve mold. Once the two pieces were joined and the rough edges removed, and while the material was still moist, the details of the image were retouched and the columns were marked on which the hieroglyphs would be incised. This meant that each ushabti was unique, even though they had come from the same mold.
The material used for the creation of this ushabti is faience, composed of fine sand cemented with sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate extracted from natron. Fired at 950 degrees C, the mixture gives an enamel-like finish with the carbonates forming a vitreous surface. It was a simple procedure and therefore not costly. The green and blue tones were achieved by the addition of a few grams of copper oxide extracted from malachite or azurite. The red tones were achieved with iron oxide, the intense blues with cobalt, the black by mixing iron oxide and magnesium oxide with water. All that was needed was to paint the chosen details in the selected colour with a brush before the firing.
Ushabtis, a term which in Ancient Egypt means “answerers”, were figures that directly represented the deceased person. They appeared in the Middle Kingdom and their use became popular in the New Kingdom. They formed part of the grave goods. Chapter VI of the Book of the Dead was often inscribed on the figurine, or a simpler version with the name and title of the deceased. The use of these funerary figures allowed the owner to enjoy the afterlife as the ushabtis acted as a form of worker substitute for the owner in the fields of Aaru, the Egyptian paradise, as the Egyptians believed that the spirits of these figurines would work for them and thus achieve their sustenance in the afterlife. There were 365 ushabtis placed among the grave goods, one for each day of the year. Along with these there might be 36 overseers who would be in charge of each of the workgroups made up of 10 workers, and so avoid any possibility of rebellion in the ranks. These figurines could be found in a special wooden box or might be placed in an informal grouping in a place near the sarcophagus. In the Late Period these figurines were produced en masse. The number grew and their use became more frequent in the graves in that period.