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

Cat

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

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

Author(s):
Aït-Kaci Lili

This haughty and elegant seated cat is one of many ex-votoes from the Late Period (664-332 BC); these objects were placed in the temples to Bastet to honor the goddess and earn her protection for the donor. Admire the brilliant workmanship of the Saite bronzesmith; the pure lines and extremely smooth finish on this sculpture endow this small domestic animal with the dignity of the goddess, daughter of the sun, and patron saint of the home.

A sacred animal

The goddess Bastet is depicted here in her animal form. She has inlaid colored glass eyes, and is seated in a sophisticated and hieratic pose. Its front paws are long and straight, while the tail creates a flexible line enclosing the body. The elegant shapes, lines, and planes confer dignity and strength to this work. The cat is wearing a necklace of cylindrical beads and a breastplate pendant decorated with the head of a feline crowned with a sun disk. The image of a scarab is engraved in its head.

Bastet

Originally, Bastet was a lioness goddess linked to the solar god, and as such, embodied its destructive power. Then in the early first millennium BC, she also became goddess of fertility and protector of the home, in the gentler feline form of the cat. From this period on, statuettes and figurines made of various materials depicted her as an attentive mother cat, with her kittens nursing or playing all around her. Her cult expanded further when her town in the Delta, Bubastis (from per Bastet, which means "house of Bastet), became the primary royal residence of the kings of the 22nd Dynasty, during the 10th century BC.
A lavish festival was held annually in this city in her honor, to celebrate the return of the Nile floodwaters. Herodotus, who attended the event, explained that the many worshipers consumed "more wine than during the rest of the year." Throughout the first millennium BC, she was honored throughout Egypt, particularly in Memphis. Countless bronze ex-voto figures have been found on all the sites where worshippers expressed their veneration.

An accurately dated offering

This is one of the most accurately dated metal objects from the Late Period. Two inscriptions with the cartouches of King Psammetichus I, the first pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty, are engraved around the edge of the base, which reproduces the counterweight of the sacred necklace (the menat) of the goddesses Hathor, Isis, and Bastet.
The text tells us that a certain Mersopdu, son of Hor, made an offering to Bastet to obtain the protection of the goddess. It also notes that the object was placed in the temple under the responsibility of Djedbastetioufankh, a priest-dancer for the goddess.

Bibliography

Ziegler, Rutschowscaya, Le Louvre, les antiquités égyptiennes, 2002, p. 78
Andreu, Rutschowscaya, Ziegler, L'Egypte ancienne au Louvre, 1997, p. 190 à 192, Notice 96

Technical description

  • Cat

    26th Dynasty, reign of Psammetichus I, 664-610 BC

  • Casting, inlay, engraving, bronze, and gold

    H.: 27.6 cm; D.: 20 cm.

  • Purchased 1852

    E 2533

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    From the year 1000 to the first Persian conquest, c. 1069–404 BC
    Room 29

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