Statuette of a Cat

  • Egypt
  • Egypt, Dynasty 26 - End of Ptolemaic period
  • 664 - 30 B.C.
  • Bronze with gold inlays
  • H-22.9 D-14 W-7.5
Catalogue Entry

This charming cat is a fine example of the thousands of statuettes dedicated to the goddess Bastet, whose center of worship was in Bubastis, a city in the Nile Delta in the north of Egypt.1 Her power rose when the Pharaoh Shoshenq I made Bubastis the capital of Egypt around 950 B.C.

Originally, Bastet had been depicted as a lion and was therefore confused with Sekhmet, a rather quarrelsome goddess. In later times, however, Bastet became associated with the cat. She was always regarded as a fertility goddess. The ease and frequency with which the unrestrained cat reproduces made it an obvious choice as her mascot.

The seated cat is the most frequent of all the various poses known. The bodies of these cats were hollowed to save bronze, and the larger ones could serve as receptacles or coffins for mummified cats. Other poses include crouching cats, mother cats nursing their kittens, and cats standing erect dressed as goddesses. They are always shown alert in order to house the spirit of the goddess, and are never shown in the position which today's cat lovers gaze upon fondly--curled up asleep. Ancient Egyptian cat statuettes are known in a variety of materials in addition to bronze, including faience, wood, clay, and stone. Unlike the falcon, baboon, bull, and some of the other sacred Egyptian animals, there is no monumental stone statue of a cat known.

Cat figures appear to be the only type of ancient animal figure whose ears were pierced and regularly provided with earrings. The ring remains in this cat's right ear.

1. For other discussions and examples of Egyptian bronze cats see Malek 1993, frontispiece, pp. 101-11, figs. 63-74, 86-87; Kozloff 1981, pp. 57-71, nos. 57-59; Steindorff 1946, pp. 147-48, pls. XCVII-XCVIII, nos. 644-50; Roeder 1937, pp. 48-50, pls. 29-32.