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A bronze sculpture of a seated cat on a black plinthe. The cat sits upright with its tail around its front paws and ears up.

A bronze sculpture of a seated cat on a black plinthe and grey background. The cat sits upright and faces the right of the image. Its tail is around its front paws and ears up. Its tail has notches cut out along the tip and leaves three, flat bumps. The sculpture is dark brown with little green discoloration.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Work Type
sculpture, statuette
mid 7th-late 1st century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Late Period to Ptolemaic
Persistent Link


Level 3, Room 3740, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Ancient Egypt: Art for Eternity
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Physical Descriptions

Leaded bronze, mixed copper-alloy inlay
Cast, lost-wax process
28.9 x 10.6 x 18.5 cm (11 3/8 x 4 3/16 x 7 5/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: Body
XRF data from Artax 2
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron, zinc, antimony, arsenic

XRF data from Artax 2
Alloy: Mixed Copper Alloy
Possible Alloying Elements: copper, lead, tin, zinc, silver, antimony, arsenic
Other Elements: iron
Comments: Levels of zinc, arsenic, and silver are consistently higher than in the main alloy; the extent of the corrosion makes exact assessment of alloy type difficult.

K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The interior is smooth and closely follows all contours of the exterior, indicating an indirect lost-wax process. Black core remains are present at the opening to the partially hollow tail, at the base above the tang, and at the back of the head. Intact iron chaplets are visible at the interior at both sides, both shoulders, the lower back, and the right side of the head. They are visible as areas of differing coloration at the exterior, but apparently without patches that would hide the hole or underlying iron. The holes at the base of the ears (c. 1 mm in diameter) were drilled rather than cast. The wire inlay at the ears, top of the head, and around the shoulders is green and red and is a mixed copper alloy of differing color. Inlay at the whiskers is black and could be oxidized silver. Corrosion pitting at the center of the top of the head could be related to an attachment, but there is no clear evidence of this, and the interior at this location is smooth and regular in color.

The surface, except for the tangs, is smooth and shiny. It is likely that the corrosion products were scraped almost entirely off and that the dark brown patina with spots of green and red is a modern oxidation. The metal at the tang (7 mm thick) is completely mineralized, as is revealed by a 1.5 cm fragment that has broken off the bottom edge. The left front leg is cracked at many locations, but it does not appear to be repaired. Inlay in the tail and the eyes has been lost, but the remains of fine wire inlay at the whiskers, ears, top of the head, and around the shoulders is partially intact as corrosion products. The earrings at the bottom of both ears have been lost. There are small chip losses at the tips of the ears. Two dents, each 2 cm wide, on the lower left side may be ancient; the metal was malleable when they were made and the corrosion at the exterior is relatively continuous.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)


Recorded Ownership History
Marian H. Phinney, Cambridge, MA, (by 1962), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1962.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Marian H. Phinney
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The large size of this elegant, hollow-cast cat statuette allowed it to hold a mummified animal in its cavity, which was reached through a large circular opening in the bottom. Although the proper left leg has a manufacturing flaw, the splendid creature bears numerous elements of ornamentation. A wide broad collar, probably originally inlaid with another metal, covers the shoulders and chest. In the center of it is a winged aegis on which a slightly redder area indicates the attachment of a central element. Faint traces of an incision reveal the presence of a pectoral hanging from the broad collar, probably in the form of the wadjet eye of Horus. Both ears are pierced, and the details of the ears and the forehead markings are inlaid with a mixed copper alloy. An abraded area on the forehead indicates where a scarab, now lost, was affixed. Four deep rectangular cavities along the end of the tail were intended for glass or faience inlays. A circular extension under the hindquarters and a large rectangular tenon below the forefeet served to attach the statue to its base.

The seated cat was the most popular animal depicted in bronze during the first millennium BCE and accompanied the increasingly widespread recognition of sacred animal cults from the Late Period through the Ptolemaic (664-30 BCE) (1). The house cat, as the domesticated counterpart to the wild feline, especially the lion, appears in Egyptian art at least as early as the Middle Kingdom (c. 2134-1665 BCE). The male, or tomcat, was associated with the sun god, and in the New Kingdom (c. 1571-1076 BCE) played an important role in the Book of the Dead as the slayer of the Apophis serpent, enemy of the sun god. In all likelihood, however, the bronze statuettes represent the female cat and are connected with a series of goddesses, in particular Bastet.

Bastet was an ancient goddess, known from at least the beginning of the Old Kingdom (c. 2687-2191 BCE). She and several other goddesses associated with the solar element were represented as feline-headed. Over time, she acquired the more benevolent characteristics of the domesticated cat, known for its fertility and nocturnal sex life, in opposition to the more threatening leonine aspects assumed by the goddess Sekhmet. In this role, Bastet and, by extension, cats were seen to be peaceful and protective. While there were other goddesses who manifested themselves as cats, for example Pakhet (“She Who Scratches”) in Middle Egypt, Bastet’s supremacy rose during the first millennium, probably as a direct result of her connection to the rulers of Dynasty 22 (c. 931-725 BCE) who came from Bubastis, the ancient cult center of Bastet.

Bubastis (modern Tell Basta near Zagazig in the eastern Delta), in addition to other Egyptian sites, became the site of a large cat cemetery at the temple of Bastet, in which mummified cats were deposited as votives. Skeletal evidence suggests that the mummified cats had been intentionally killed while still young, rather than having been cherished pets that died of natural causes (2). Small cat figurines were often wrapped in the linen bandages of the mummified remains, which were in turn placed in bronze or wooden containers in the shape of seated cats. Many of the larger, hollow-cast bronze cats can be interpreted in this way and retain an opening into the body cavity. The majority of the bronzes, however, were dedicated in shrines.

The dedication of cat mummies and votive statues has been connected to a highly institutionalized cult of the king, which may explain the large number and standardized iconography of the bronzes (3). Although there is a wide variety of types preserved, most of the bronzes achieve an anatomical correctness and express the essence of cats—haughty dignity and aloofness. They assume the seated position with head held erect and tail curled along the right side as in the hieroglyphic sign. One or both of the ears tend to be pierced, and gold hoop earrings remain on some examples. The frequent presence of a scarab beetle placed on the forehead and a pectoral on the chest suggests the protective function and solar connection of such figures.


1. J. Málek, The Cat in Ancient Egypt (Philadelphia, 1993) 98-105.

2. D. Schorsch and J. H. Frantz, “A Tale of Two Kitties,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 55.3 (1997): 16-29, esp. 17-18.

3. For discussion of sacred animals and the royal cult, see D. Kessler, Die Heiligen Tiere und der König, Ägypten und Altes Testament 16 (Wiesbaden, 1989).

Marian Feldman

Publication History

  • Katherine Eremin and Josef Riederer, "Analytical Approaches to Ancient Bronzes", Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, ed. Susanne Ebbinghaus, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2014), 64-91, pp. 64 and 83-84, fig. 3.10.a-b.
  • Susanne Ebbinghaus, ed., Ancient Bronzes through a Modern Lens: Introductory Essays on the Study of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes, Harvard Art Museum/Yale University Press (Cambridge, MA, 2014), pp. 64, 67, 83-84, fig. 3.10a-b

Exhibition History

  • Ancient Egypt, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany, 09/13/2001 - 09/13/2007
  • 32Q: 3740 Egyptian, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project
  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at