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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Seated Cat on Inscribed Base
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Cat Figure on Base
Work Type
sculpture, statuette
mid 7th-late 1st century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Late Period to Ptolemaic
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Mixed copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
9.9 x 3.8 x 7.9 cm (3 7/8 x 1 1/2 x 3 1/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Mixed Copper Alloy:
Cu, 70.93; Sn, 4.81; Pb, 20.63; Zn, 3.16; Fe, 0.07; Ni, 0.05; Ag, 0.08; Sb, 0.09; As, 0.15; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.02; 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, lead, zinc
Other Elements: iron, silver, antimony
K. Eremin, January 2014

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Artax 2
Alloy: Mixed copper alloy
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead, zinc
Other Elements: iron, silver, antimony
Comments: Several green areas on the base have higher levels of silver, which is suggestive of an inlay.

K. Eremin, June 2015

Chemical Composition:
Lead Isotope Analysis (Pb, 20.63%):

Pb206/Pb204, 18.57682; Pb207/Pb204, 15.66311; Pb208/Pb204, 38.69837; Pb, 207/Pb206, 0.84315; Pb 208/Pb206, 2.08315; Pb208/Pb207, 2.47067

P. Degryse

Technical Observations: The patina is dark green with areas of light green and red. Deep-seated corrosion is indicative of long-term burial. The surface is damaged from corrosion and scratch marks are present in many areas from cleaning the surface.

The base section was cast integrally with the cat. The interior surfaces do not match the contours of the exterior relief, and it seems likely that the wax model was formed directly around a prepared core. A portion of what appears to be core is intact. It is white and contains large quartz grains and black charcoal particles. The inscription at the base is composed of soft broad shapes and must have been made in the wax model. Details in the face and ears are sharp and crisp and were made in the metal.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)

Louise M. and George E. Bates, Camden, ME (by 1971-1992), gift; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 1992.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Louise M. and George E. Bates
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
A keyhole-shaped base with incised hieroglyphs surrounding it supports this cat. The entirety was hollow cast as a single piece. The shape of the base, popular for such cat statuettes, may derive from the counterpoise of the menat necklace. The necklace was initially associated with the goddess Hathor, but later also with a series of feline goddesses including Sekhmet and Bastet. From the Ramesside period (19th and 20th Dynasties, c. 1321-1076 BCE) onward, it served as an amuletic grave offering, acquiring a protective and regenerative function. One of the few securely dated examples of a seated cat statue, based on an inscription bearing the cartouche of Psamtik I (Dynasty 26, c. 664-610 BCE), rests on such a base (1).

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) (2). 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 (3). 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 (4). 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. Musée du Louvre, inv. no. E 3933; see C. Ziegler, “Les arts du métal à la Troisième Période Intermédiaire,” in Tanis: L’or des pharaons, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Centre de la Vieille Charité, Marseille (Paris, 1987) 85-101, esp. 93.

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

3. 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.

4. 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

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