Head of a cat

Bronze Height 7.6 cm (3 in.) Egyptian - circa 664-332 BC

The head hollow-cast in bronze, with very fine details including whiskers and hair on the pointed ears, strong bone structure and elegant profile, a lustrous green patina. The head is an incredibly life like representation of the Egyptian Mau, a domesticated African cat. Intact.

The cat was sacred to the goddess Bastet. She was a very important goddess, the daughter of the sun god Ra, she was at the same time a goddess of the home, fertility and childbirth and a ferocious war goddess, bent on destroying her enemies. Much like a protective lioness. She was represented either as a cat or as a cat-headed woman. A mummified cat would be offered to Bastet to garner favour from her, and the bodies such mummified cats were often surmounted by a realistic rendering of a cat head in bronze.

She protected the home from evil spirits and disease, in particular those associated with women and children. For this reason she was very widely worshipped from the 2nd Dynasty onwards, though the majority of votive offerings and talisman in her image date to the Late Period, the time during which the present example was made. There are several explanations for this, but the primary explanation is that Bastet’s cult centre was at Bubastis in Lower Egypt; one of the richest cities in Egypt. Subsequently, people came from all over the country, and when doing so would pay their respects to the goddess. Her temple at Bubastis was the focal point of this luxurious city and when excavated in 1887 over 300,000 mummified cats were found here.

Herodotus wrote of the cult “As they travel by river to Bubastis, whenever they come near any other town they bring their boat near the bank; then some of the women do as I have said, while some shout mockery of the women of the town; others dance, and others stand up and lift their skirts. They do this whenever they come alongside any riverside town. But when they have reached Bubastis, they make a festival with great sacrifices, and more wine is drunk at this feast than in the whole year besides. It is customary for men and women (but not children) to assemble there to the number of seven hundred thousand, as the people of the place say.” (Histories, Book II.60).

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Charles Ede

"Ancient Art"

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