Bronze Statuette of a Cat

7th and 6th centuries B.C.

Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
Budapest, Hungary

According to the ancient Egyptians the gods could express either their destructive or their benevolent side to mortals. The ferality and playfulness typical of felines was expressed on the one hand by the unbridled ferocity and bloodthirstiness of the lioness (Sakhmet/Tefnut), and on the other by the benevolent effect of the cat goddess Bastet, placing emphasis on her domesticated and supple nature.
Both aspects of the goddess are closely linked to the sun-god and solar concepts. According to the Myth of the Solar Eye she is the daughter of the god, (actually personifying the divine Solar Eye) who according to myth in a fit of anger transformed herself into the shape of a lioness (or a wild cat), and strayed into the remote South. The sun-god dispatched the baboon-shaped Thot in pursuit of her and he managed to bring her back in a domesticated and pacified cat form. The head of this statuette is carved with a scarab beetle (the rising form of the sun-god), referring to the animal's link with the sun-god. The eyes are inlaid in gold. One of the rock crystal pupils decorating the eyes has been lost.
During the first millennium BC the main religious centre of the goddess Bastet venerated in cat form was the town of Bubastis in the Eastern Delta. Herodotus gives a vivid account of the fertility ceremonies performed there. Hundreds of statuettes like this, obviously intended to represent the cult image of the temple, were presented as votive offerings to the goddess.

Éva Liptay


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