Ancient Egypt, Third Intermediate Period, Dynasties 21 to 25, ca. 1070 to 664 BCE. An impressive pair of mold-formed faience ushabtis, both presenting upright in a mummiform position: feet jutting from the base and fused legs below the folded arms and forward facing head. With liberal remains of a vibrant turquoise glaze decorating their bodies, both are adorned with black details, such as wearing a black horizontal headband and holding farming tools. The taller ushabti exhibits a cream-hued surface, while the shorter is enveloped in a natural shade of light brown. Both are skillfully embellished with vertical hieroglyphic messages. Size of largest (turquoise glaze): 0.9" W x 3.75" H (2.3 cm x 9.5 cm)
Ushabti (or shabti) dolls are figures shaped like adult male or female mummies wearing the traditional ancient Egyptian headdresses. The ancient Egyptians believed that after they died, their spirits would have to work in the "Field of Reeds" owned by the god of the underworld, Osiris. This meant doing agricultural labor and it was required by all members of society, from workers to Pharaohs. The hieroglyphic inscriptions, as seen here, imbued the ushabti with power and they became servants that did the hard labor for their masters in the afterlife. Both ushabtis here are painted with hoes and are thus ready to aid in this task. By the Third Intermediate period, this practice had become so necessary and elaborate that some tombs contained one worker for every day of the year and thirty-six overseers, each responsible for ten laborers!
Provenance: ex-collection of Joel Malter, California, USA before 2005
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Larger figure repaired along waistline, with light adhesive residue along break line; shorter figure is intact and very good. Both pieces have minor surface pitting, fading to glaze pigment and hieroglyphs, and light encrustations. Nice preservation to overall forms of both figures and dark hieroglyphs on shorter figure.