Perhaps no single object epitomizes the spirit of Ancient Egypt better than the ushabti. Shaped like a divine mummy, the ushabti evokes the magical side of the Egyptian belief in the afterlife, while the two hoes clutched in the hands recall the rural, agrarian culture of the land. The word ushabti (supplanting the older term shawabti) literally means “the answerer.” The function of these little figures is described in Chapter VI of the Book of the Dead: “O this Ushabti! If (the deceased) is called upon to do hard labor in the hereafter, say thou: I am here.” The ushabti was expected to answer the call to work in place of the deceased, and this passage was frequently inscribed on the figures themselves. Originally, a single ushabti was placed in a given tomb; but by the New Kingdom, the statues had come to be regarded as servants and slaves for the deceased rather than as a substitute, and many might be found buried together, along with an overseer figure. In the course of Egyptian history, ushabti were created from a variety of material, including wood, stone, metal, and faience.
This gorgeous ushabti, carved from either serpentine or steatite, belonged to the tomb furnishings of a senior general of Ramses II named Kasa. A handful of ushabtis bearing his full title, made of gray stone, pink sandstone, and white or green faience, are well known to scholars. This ushabti stands on a low pedestal, holding hoes and a seed-sack. He wears a long finely wrapped and pleated kilt with a prominent overfold and beaded upper border on the back. He is well adorned with beaded bracelets, a broad collar, and a striated tripartite wig that crowns his head. His face has been carefully rendered with outlined lips, a slightly aquiline nose, and long contoured eyebrows featuring the cosmetic lines so characteristic of Ancient Egypt. A column inscription in the front on the overfold can be translated as, ``Osiris Kasa, blessed in peace.'' The five lines of inscription carved in sunk relief on the sides and back of the kilt reads: ``Let the Osiris Kasa be enlightened, he says...,'' followed by chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead (version IV C). Kasa, an ancient general who fought under Ramses the Great, is best known today not for his military accomplishments, but for the remarkable works of art that decorated his monumental tomb, including this stunning ushabti
Geschenk des Nils: Aegyptische Kunstwerke aus Schweizer Besitz, Hermann Schlögl, ed., catalogue of the exhibition at the Archäologische Sammlung der Universität Bern, Historiches Museum, Bern, Kunstmuseum, Lucerne, and Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva, Zurich, 1978, no. 192, p. 61, illus.
Vom Euphrat zum Nil. Kunst aus dem alten Ägypten und Vorderasien, catalogue of the exhibition held at the Kunstmuseum des Kantons Thurgau, Bern, 1985, no. 10, pp. 26-27, illus.
Hermann A. Schlögl and Andreas Brodbeck, Ägyptische Totenfiguren aus öffentlichen und privaten Sammlungen der Schweiz, Göttingen, 1990, no. 34, pp. 91-92, illus.