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Work Funerary figurine of Ramesses IV

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Ramesses IV

© Musée du Louvre/G. Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Letellier Bernadette

This funerary figurine was made for the pharaoh Ramesses IV. The proportions, the sculpting of the face, and the design of the text are beautifully crafted. Yet this period is often viewed as the start of the decline of Egypt. Although Ramesses IV ruled for only a short time, he continued the temple restoration campaign started by his father, Ramesses III, by supporting and increasing the number of the royal craftsmen at Deir el-Medina.

What is a "shabti?"

Funerary figurines, known as "shabtis" by the Egyptians (which means "those who answer") are viewed as typical ancient Egypt objects and are highly prized by collectors. They represent the deceased in the form of a mummy. The figure's name, headdress, and any hand-held accessories are the only way to know whether the shabti represents a king or a commoner. They appeared during the Middle Kingdom and were then produced until the end of the Egyptian dynasties. They did, however, originate with royalty. A text was often written the body of the shabtis, indicating the statuette's purpose. It comes from the Book of the Coming Forth by Day, more commonly known as the Book of the Dead, a collection of spells concerning the deceased and his life after death in eternity. It calls on the deceased's double, represented by the figurine, to take the deceased's place and perform certain tasks, including agricultural jobs, which may be demanded of him in the afterlife.

The royal figurine

This type of forced labor certainly didn't concern the king, who after his death shared the destiny of the sun god in his eternal voyage around the earth. Yet the shabti of Ramesses IV is holding two hoes, designed for digging soil or mixing clay, and Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead is indeed written with the names of the king in lines of hieroglyphs along the front of the legs. In short, all that distinguishes it from the figurine of an ordinary Egyptian is the "nemes," or royal headdress. Initially viewed as substitutes for the deceased, shabtis later became mere servants, wearing the insignia of their masters as if in livery. The colors are still extraordinarily sharp on the bright, white background, which represents a shroud. Many wooden objects from the New Kingdom and from the region of Thebes still have original painted colors, as does this work, which is remarkable in every way.

How many?

Ramesses IV had 40 shabtis painted on the walls of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. They are all lined up one behind the other. This is a surprising figure, because according to a tradition (confirmed by a papyrus in the British Museum), there were to be 401 of these funerary workers, one for each day of the year (365), plus one foreman to oversee each 10 servants (for a total of 36). This rule was not always so strict. Initially, each deceased had only one shabti. Later, hundreds were found, all for a single person - a far greater number that the designated 401. The fabulous funerary treasure of Tutankhamun included 417.


Berman Lawrence M., Letellier Bernadette (sous la dir. de), Pharaohs : treasures of Egyptian art from the Louvre, Cleveland, Cleveland Museum
of Art, 1996, pp. 72-73 et 97, commentaire, photo couleurs et bibliographie.
Bovo Jean-Luc (sous la dir. de), Chaouabtis : des travailleurs pharaoniques pour l'éternité, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, aile Richelieu,
7 mars-30 juin 2003, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, p. 66.
Bresc-Bautier Geneviève, Morvan Frédéric (sous la dir. de),
Les Collections du Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1999, p. 94, photo couleurs, notice n 84.
Schneider Hans D., Shabtis : an introduction to the history of ancient Egyptian funerary statuettes with a catalogue of the collection of Shabtis
in the National museum of antiquities at Leiden, Leiden, Rijksmuseum
van Oudheden te Leiden, 1977, pp. 265-266 et fig. 38.
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et La Documentation française, pp. 240-241, fig. 139, photo couleurs
et commentaire.
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Technical description

  • Ramesses IV

    1153-1147 BC (20th Dynasty)

  • Painted wood

    H. 32.50 cm

  • N 438

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Tomb of Osiris
    Room 323
    Display case 3: Royal funerary servants

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