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Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The final Pharaonic dynasties and the Ptolemaic period (circa 1069 - 30 BC)

Bastet

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
The final Pharaonic dynasties and the Ptolemaic period (circa 1069 - 30 BC)

Author(s):
Catherine BRIDONNEAU

This elegant bronze statuette, an image of the goddess Bastet, combines the body of a woman in a close-fitting dress with the delightful head of a little cat with pricked ears. She holds a sistrum, a lion-headed aegis, and a basket. This is one of the very many figurines that were made during the Late Period and placed by the faithful as ex-votos in the goddess’s temples.

A cat-headed woman

Bastet is standing with her legs together on a rather low base. She wears ankle bracelets and a figure-hugging, mid calf-length dress with a V-neck and sleeves that cover her shoulders; this style of dress was not Egyptian, and was only worn by this particular goddess. The motifs in the fabric, rendered by incised chevrons and latticework between vertical bands, are reminiscent of Syrian designs. The goddess wears a Wedjat eye around her neck; this was a symbol of wholeness and a protective device. In her right hand is an arched sistrum, the top part of which rests on her shoulder. Her left hand holds a lion-headed aegis to her breast, facing outward. A small cylindrical basket, decorated with incisions, hangs from her left arm.

The attributes of the goddess

The objects that the goddess holds in her hands indicate her nature. The arched sistrum ("sechechet" in Egyptian) was composed of a neck topped by a long arch to which three stems strung with small metal discs were attached. When it was shaken, this musical (and cult) instrument made a sound that was designed to soothe and charm the goddess.

The aegis was a protective adornment in the form of a collar-like necklace. This one, featuring the head of a lioness crowned by the sun disk and uraeus, is a reminder that Bastet was the daughter of the sun god. Both the sistrum and the aegis refer to the two opposite but complementary aspects of Bastet’s character—dangerous, irascible lioness and peaceful, protective cat. These accessories were indispensable to tame the angry goddess and transform her into a gentle cat.

Bastet

Bastet, who was worshipped in Egypt from the 2nd Dynasty onward, was one of the many lioness-goddesses in the Egyptian pantheon. The best known of such goddesses was Sekhmet, who was a daughter of the sun god, Eye of Re, and protectress of the god—but a dangerous and uncontrollable deity. Bastet did not acquire the appearance of a cat until the Third Intermediate Period, when she was worshipped as a goddess of joy and fertility and protectress of the home and children. The cult of the "Mistress of Bubastis" spread considerably from the 22nd Dynasty onward (when the Libyan kings chose the Delta city of Bubastis as their capital), reaching its zenith during the Ptolemaic Period. A great many statuettes, usually made of metal and representing Bastet in various forms (as a seated cat, a cat-headed woman, or a cat with its kittens), were produced near the temples themselves and sold to the faithful, who placed them in the goddess’s temples to commemorate a pilgrimage or Bastet festival, to give thanks, or to request a favor from her. When too many of such ex-votos accumulated, the priests buried them in ditches that were specially dug for this purpose, and this is where—fortunately for us—they were found by 19th-century excavators.

Bibliography

- ETIENNE Marc, Les dieux de l’Egypte, petit dictionnaire illustré, Collection Chercheurs d’art, Service culturel du musée du Louvre, 1998, p. 11.

Technical description

  • Bastet

    Late Period, 26th Dynasty, 664-332 BC

  • Solid cast, bronze

    H. 14.50 cm

  • N 3857

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The gods and magic
    Room 18

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