Egyptian Bronze Head of a Cat
Period: Late Period, (6th-4th Century B.C.)
Dimensions: H: 10.5
Ex-Bela Hein collection, acquired before 1931.
This hollow cast head is whole but has been reassembled from a number of pieces. The black-colored surface of the metal is partially covered with areas of green patina. The bronze walls are quite thick. The eyes of the cat were fashioned from another material and set in the deep, almond-shaped sockets. Supported by a low cylindrical neck, this work reproduces a life-size head of a cat.
Stylistically, the image is characterized by an impressive realism and elegance, both in the frontal view and in profile, nearly as if the animal were alive or as if it were a true portrait: the proportions are supple and slender despite the strength of the bone structure, which is clearly visible on the forehead, in the area of the eyes and cheeks, on the flat of the nose and in the jaw. The alert ears, as if the cat was watching prey or, conversely, a threat, are large and rounded, with lightly incised vertical and horizontal lines to indicate the external and internal anatomical differences. The circular and well-modeled muzzle has two notches, corresponding to the nostrils, which join under the nose before forming the sinuous lines of the mouth. The whiskers are very finely rendered by incisions engraved just above the lips.
This head belonged to a composite statue of a cat, whose body was probably made of wood or metal: it probably was a sort of “funerary statuette” containing the mummy or the remains of a cat’s body. Reliquaries were even created for these animals in the shape of thin oblong boxes, outfitted with a wooden head at one end.
In Egyptian iconography, images of cats are the most common animal representations, proving the popularity of these small domestic felines. They are generally regarded as images of Bastet – the goddess who is the sweet and gentle form of the dangerous Sekhmet – even if all cats do not necessarily represent Bastet.
This deity became very popular from the Third Intermediate Period on, when the evolution of Egyptian religious feeling led to the multiplication of protective figures and deities. Mistress of all the evils she manages, Bastet is the patroness of Sekhmet’s physician-priests and in particular protects the family home, women about to give birth and children. Venerated to some extent throughout Egypt, her major shrine is located in Bubastis (Tell Basta), a city that became a capital in the 22nd Dynasty. Once a year, her temple attracted a multitude of pilgrims from all social strata in a memorable festival reported by Herodotus, where wine flowed. On this occasion, deceased cats were brought to the temple and mummified.
Entdeckungen, Ägyptische Kunst in Süddeutschland, Mainz on Rhine, 1985, p. 114, n. 94.
PAGE-GASSER M. – WIESE A.B., Egypte, Moments d’éternité, Mainz on Rhine, 1997, pp. 276-277, n. 186b.
ROEDER G., Ägyptische Bronzefiguren, Berlin, 1956, pp. 344-346, pl. 50.