Description & Technical information

The XIX Dynasty in Ancient Egypt (1292 BC. – 1189 BC.), was founded by Ramesses I, who Pharaoh Horemheb chose as his successor to the throne, and is best known for its military conquests in the biblical lands of Canaan. Much like their prior dynasties, they continued a tradition for sculptural practices, especially as tomb goods.
An Ushabti is a funerary figurine used throughout ancient Egypt, placed in a tomb to aid as a servant to the deceased, conducting manual labour for them in the afterlife. Often accompanied with various tools to assist their practices such as carrying sandals, plucking geese or baking bread, they are inscribed on their lower portions with hieroglyphs describing them as ‘answerers’, naming their characters and duties and summarising their readiness to work[1]. Originating in the Old Kingdom (2600 BC.), they were small in size, often created in multiples and sometimes covered the entire floor of a tomb surrounding the sarcophagus. Varying between wood, stone, clay, metal, glass and earthenware, often from a singular mould, and sometimes polychromatic, they take on a variety of forms, depending on the styles of the time. They are found in Egyptology collections throughout the world, and provide great insight in to the death rituals and afterlife beliefs of ancient Egyptians.
This example, dedicated to ‘Penthu’, could be a historical servant quested to carrying out toil for the royal doctor of the sane name who treated the family members of the XVIII Dynasty, or Penthu, the Royal Vizier to Tutankhamen. He was clearly an offering to someone of great power and lineage, and would have once stood ready to work on the floor of a tomb in a grand pyramid as it was sealed after the inhabitant’s death.
Carved from a hard stone, in a traditional mummification pose, this fine and evocative statue has a mysterious quality imbued within – rich with ancient spirituality, it speaks of a people who had a very real belief in their preservation in the afterlife. Larger than the common 9 cm. size most found and carved in the round with fine detailing and typical stylised features such as almond eyes and a thick headdress, it is instantly recognisable as a typical work of Egyptian imagery and craft[2].
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York contains a XIX Dynasty ushabti of similar size and appearance, with arms folded across the torso, frontal appearance, and also decorated with inscriptions from the hips to the ankles[3]. Less fine and detailed than this example, and carved from wood, rather than stone, highlighting the labour and expense incurred for this example, together they highlight the typical appearance of such important objects, whilst shedding light on ancient afterlife customs and the need to maintain social power hierarchy even in death. Another parallel found in the British Museum also from the XIX Dynasty is carved form stone like this, but is cruder in execution, suggests the range in appearance in which these statues were created[4]. Varying materials, appearances and quality depended on the wealth and status of the donor – the owner of this ushabti was no doubt an important and prosperous person. 
This statue was once in the collection of the famous French novelist and memoirist Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, also known under her pseudonym George Sand (1804-18760)[5]. Well known for her public romantic affairs with the composer Frédéric Chopin and the writer Alfred de Musset among others, she was an eccentric character known amongst well-French social circles, and this piece once graced her private residence in Paris. Her collection was sold after her death, at various auctions throughout Paris, with many pieces ending up in the Louvre.

[1] M. Zaki; The Legacy of Tutankhamen Art and History, American University in Cairo Press, 2008, p.56.

[2] F. Joseph; Archaeological Discoveries of Ancient America, Rosen Publishing Group, 2013, p.17.

[3] Ushabti of Mesu Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 19 Dynasty, Upper Egypt, Thebes, painted limestone and wood, H: 15 cm., 86.1.21

[4] Ushabti, British Museum, London, incised stone, dedicated to Luy, overseer of cattle. 19th dynasty, H: 16.1 cm. EA33926

[5] Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, also known as George Sand, 1804-1876. Photo George Sand, aged 60, by Nadar, 1864.

Period:  Antiquity
Origin:  Egypt
Medium: Hardstone
Dimensions: 17.6 cm (6⁷/₈ inches)
Provenance: 2nd Vente George Sans-M Blanche Versailles, Hotel Rameau, 3rd December 1964
George Sand collection, 1804-1876. 
Categories: Classical & Egyptian antiquities, Sculpture