New Kingdom 1550 – 1077 B.C
Egyptian Hardstone Ushabti of Penthu
The XIX Dynasty of Egypt (1292–1189 B.C.), best known for its military conquests in the biblical lands of Canaan, was founded by Ramesses I, whom Pharaoh Horemheb chose as his successor to the throne.
An ushabti is a funerary figurine, used throughout ancient Egypt that was placed in a tomb as a servant to the deceased, conducting manual labour for them in the afterlife. Often accompanied by various tools to assist in their tasks of 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 summarizing their readiness to work. Originating in the Old Kingdom (2649–2150 B.C.), they were small in size, often created in multiples, and sometimes covered the entire floor of a tomb surrounding the sarcophagus. Varying in material between wood, stone, clay, metal, glass and earthenware, often from a single mould, and sometimes polychromatic, they take on a variety of forms, depending on the styles of the time. They are found in Egyptology collections worldwide and provide great insight into the death rituals and afterlife beliefs of ancient Egyptians.
This ushabti represents a servant of ‘Penthu’, whose many titles were listed as ‘seal-bearer of the King of Lower Egypt, the sole companion, the attendant of the Lord of the Two Lands, the favourite of the good god, the king’s scribe, the king’s subordinate, the first servant of the Aten in the mansion of the Aten in Akhetaten, the chief of physicians, and chamberlain’. Physician to Pharaoh Akhenaten and later vizier for Tutankhamen, he had his own tomb created at Amarna, where this statue would have probably been placed, sealed within for eternity to carry out duties for Penthu in the afterlife.
Carved from a hard stone, in a traditional mummification pose, this fine and evocative statue is imbued with a mysterious quality – rich with ancient spirituality, it speaks of a people who had a very real belief in their preservation in the afterlife. Larger than the usual 9 cm height of most found, and carved in the round with fine detailing and typical stylized features such as almond eyes and a thick headdress, it is instantly recognizable as a typical work of Egyptian imagery and craft.
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. Less detailed, however, and carved from wood rather than stone, it otherwise shares with our statuette the typical appearance of such important objects, while shedding light on ancient afterlife customs and the need to maintain social hierarchy even in death. Another parallel, found in the British Museum, also from the XIX Dynasty, is carved from stone as is ours, but is cruder in execution, suggesting the range in appearance in which these statues were created. 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.
2nd vente, George Sand-M Blanche, Hotel Rameau, Versailles, 3rd December 1964.
Collection of George Sane (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, 1804-1976).