Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art
Most cat statues of this type served as containers for cat mummies. Because this statue is solid, it must have functioned differently, perhaps as a temple offering. A scarab, symbolizing the morning sun, was frequently placed between the ears of such cats, perhaps an artistic interpretation of the stripes on a cat’s fur.
Wood (most likely sycamore fig - Ficus sycomorus L.), gold leaf, gesso, bronze, copper, pigment, rock crystal, glass
305 B.C.E.-1st century C.E.
Ptolemaic Period to Roman Period
26 3/8 x 7 1/4 x 19 in. (67 x 18.4 x 48.3 cm) (show scale)
Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
One wooden votive figure of a cat, mounted on a wooden base. The cat sits erect, paws close together in front. An attempt at realistic modelling of the forelegs and forepaws is seen. No hind legs are shown but a posterior swelling gives an illusion of them. No tail is present. The head is well modelled, the cheekbones prominent. The eyes are inlaid. The rims are of bronze; the eyeballs of glass, painted from behind to simulate pupil. Atop the head a lapis lazuli scarab has been affixed. The haunches of the cat terminate in a roughly rectangular, but crudely fashioned dowel which fits into the base: the same is true for the paws. The base is also roughly rectangular, but it curves inward midway, thus accentuating the gentle curve of the haunches when seen from the front. The back of the base is rounded, thus performing the same function. The flatness of the chest and the above factors makes it evident that the votive was meant to be seen from the front.
Condition: The body of the cat and the head have been joined together in a modern restoration. A thick, dark band marks the spot of attachment. Areas of linen and adhesive strengthening of the join are visible over the chest and right shoulder. The figure and base are completely denuded of gesso and color. Two superficial cracks are visible on the chest. On the left side (flank), one longer crack is visible at the level of the foreleg. Several areas of cracking are also seen on the haunch. On the right side of haunch an area of extensive damage is noted with much cracking on the lower portion. Several diagonal cracks (superficial) run across the back. The base bears a large crack directly in front of the figure. The left hand edge is cracked and fragmented. The base has generally suffered greater deterioration than the figure. The head of the cat has suffered some damage, especially about the ears. The left ear exhibits one small chip, from its tip, while the right has suffered loss along the outer edge of the pinna.
This item is not on view
Cat (Bastet), 305 B.C.E.-1st century C.E. Wood (most likely sycamore fig - Ficus sycomorus L.), gold leaf, gesso, bronze, copper, pigment, rock crystal, glass, 26 3/8 x 7 1/4 x 19 in. (67 x 18.4 x 48.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1945E. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 37.1945E_PS9.jpg)
overall, 37.1945E_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
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Why does this cat have a gem on top of its head? What does this represent?
That gem is actually a representation of a scarab beetle which was symbolized the early morning sun, something very important to the ancient Egyptians. Cats were also closely associated with the sun. If you look around that special exhibition, you will see other felines depicted with accoutrements and jewelry and this wasn't uncommon in ancient Egyptian art. However, we don't know if the Egyptians would put jewelry on their living cats!
Did this figure come with a collar? I can see there's a mark around the neck.
A collar or necklace was an accessory figures of cats would be seen with, among other forms of jewelry. There is a great statue head of a cat in that exhibition with gold earrings. However, in the case of this particular statue, the head had broken off and was re-attached by conservators.
Why were felines often chosen to be represented in Ancient Egypt? I mean, I don't see many other animals.
One reason cats were so revered in ancient Egypt was that they were able to kill vermin (like mice and rats) that would get into food supplies. Of course, food was crucial to survival, so cats were seen as protectors in that way! The Goddess Bastet, usually shown in cat form or cat/human form, was the goddess of protection, fertility, and motherhood.
Other animals do appear in the art of ancient Egypt, you'll see quite a few hippopotami in the galleries, for example, but cats were especially popular!
Let us know if any other objects catch your eye as you move through the Egypt galleries.