Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
1969.194
Title
Cat
Classification
Sculpture
Work Type
sculpture, statuette
Date
mid 7th-late 1st century BCE
Places
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Period
Late Period to Ptolemaic
Culture
Egyptian
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/281913
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Leaded copper-tin-antimony alloy
Technique
Cast, lost-wax process
Dimensions
5.4 x 1.8 x 4.2 cm (2 1/8 x 11/16 x 1 5/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Copper-Tin-Antimony Alloy
Cu, 83.54; Sn, 2.47; Pb, 4.72; Zn, 0.012; Fe, 0.06; Ni, 0.05; Ag, 0.03; Sb, 8.82; As, 0.22; Bi, 0.07; Co, 0.012; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Mixed Copper Alloy
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, antimony
Other Elements: lead, iron, nickel, silver, arsenic
K. Eremin, January 2014

Chemical Composition:
Lead Isotope Analysis (Pb, 4.72%):

Pb206/Pb204, 18.83763; Pb207/Pb204, 15.67968; Pb208/Pb204, 38.87962; Pb, 207/Pb206, 0.83236; Pb 208/Pb206, 2.06393; Pb208/Pb207, 2.47962



P. Degryse

Technical Observations: The surface is black, probably from a modern application of color or the growth of copper sulfide corrosion products. There is no clear evidence of deep-seated corrosion and long-term burial, but the surface is slightly rough and may have been stripped of corrosion. The losses to the tail and right front paw are the result of the insertion of a modern threaded mounting pin hole under the front feet, similar to that at the rear legs.

The cat is a solid cast. There are no mold lines visible. No inlays are present. The break at the tail and paw are brittle fractures with crisp surfaces. The stubs where the back paws should be are smooth and rounded and could be flaws rather than old losses.


Henry Lie (submitted 2001)

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Edward W. Forbes
Accession Year
1969
Object Number
1969.194
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions

Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This slender cat has sharply angular features with a pointed nose and curving ears. No surface decoration is visible on the small, solid-cast figurine, which is missing the end of its tail, both back paws, and its proper right forepaw. Traces of tenons can be seen below the forelegs and hindquarters.

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.

NOTES:

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

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

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 am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu