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Statuette of a Bastet Cat

Statuette of a Bastet Cat
Statuette of a Bastet Cat
Probably 6th c. BCE, 26th Dynasty
Gilbreath-McLorn Museum Fund and Weinberg Fund

This bronze cat is the incarnation of Bastet, the ancient Egyptian goddess whose worship was centered in the city of Bubastis, where the cult originated. Bastet cats first appear at the end of the New Kingdom around 1100 BCE, but are increasingly popular from the sixth century BCE down through the Ptolemaic period, which ended with the death of Cleopatra VII in 30 BCE. The popularity and longevity of this cult is attested by the large numbers of surviving cat statuettes.

Such statuettes could be used in ancient Egypt as coffins for sacrificed cats, as amulets accompanying cat burials, and as ornaments to other types of cat coffins. Most statuettes, however, served as votive offerings in graves or in shrines to the goddess Bastet.

Bastet cats are shown both seated and recumbent and are often depicted with kittens, with human companions, or with the goddess herself. This cat is represented in typical fashion, seated with its tail neatly curled around its body and paws. Ornamental details of such cats can include engraved or inlaid accents, necklaces with pendants, earrings, and sun-discs or scarabs. This statuette is missing its earring from the left ear.

Over time, the cult of the goddess Bastet evolved immensely. Originally, the goddess was depicted as a lioness and served as protectress of pharaohs. Later images showed Bastet as a domesticated cat, and her domain came to include the sun, the moon, music, and dance. Bastet’s temple at Bubastis was also home to an oracle, which made the cult extremely popular. The Greek historian Herodotus described the festival of Bastet as the most beautiful and joyous in the Egyptian calendar, sometimes attracting as many as 700,000 multinational pilgrims.

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