Head of a cat representing the goddess Bastet

A bronze bust of a cat with pointed ears and displaying an exact representation of the animal’s facial features. The piece has been made by the lost-wax technique.

Since the Badarian culture (4500 BC), three species of wild cats have been identified from the remains of bones which have been found. These can be seen depicted in reliefs in different mastabas of the Old Kingdom, above all, showing the animals hunting in the desert. When man became sedentary, and given the availability of food associated with his presence, these feline carnivores came into the domestic sphere of the Egyptians from the Middle Kingdom on.

It would seem that cats first became domesticated during the second millennium BC in Ancient Egypt. They provided company in the home and, moreover, were excellent hunters of rodents, scorpions and snakes, thus protecting the home from the dangers of the desert. In this manner they won their place in Egyptian homes. During the New Kingdom we find them frequently represented, although it was during the Late Period when numerous statuettes of cats were carved, the animal shown in an expectant position with pricked-up, alert ears.

Admiration of this animal was such that it was deified as Bastet. Given the cat’s attitude and behaviour, she was recognised as the protecting goddess of the household, and as a symbol of the joy of life. Bastet was also considered the deity of harmony and happiness. Apart from her completely animal form, like the great majority of Egyptian gods, she was also represented as a woman with the head of a cat, and also on many occasions holding a sistrum, which was to indicate her love of music.

She was considered to be the personification of the warming rays of the sun, as well as the incarnation of the peaceful aspects of gods such as Sekhmet, who represented the evil qualities of the sun. As the eye of Atum (creator and solar god) she was associated with the moon and protected births and pregnant women. This maternal characteristic was reflected in the work of the artisans who modelled bronze figures of reclining cats suckling a litter of domestic kittens. This iconography can also be seen decorating the upper part of a sistrum, the best-known religious musical instrument.

The cult of Bastet expanded with the Libyan dynasty, which established its capital in the city of Bubastis, in the eastern part of the Nile Delta. A great temple was built there to the “Daughter of Re”, and her cult from then on surged in popularity. “Here there is a highly important sanctuary which has her name. There are, without doubt, other sanctuaries which are more spacious and sumptuous, but none so pleasant to behold”. (Herodotus, The Histories II, 137). The excavations of the 19th century brought to light bronze statuettes from caches where priests had deposited a great number of ex-votos, as well as a vast necropolis of cat mummies. During the Late Period it was very common practice for people to place mummified animals in temples and hipogea consecrated to the gods whose favours they wished to obtain. Cats, together with falcons, were the most numerous. The mummies were covered with bindings which were later covered with stucco and painted with polychrome colouring. They were also, on occasion, placed in sarcophagi in the same form as the animal.

The technique of lost wax casting is a sculptural procedure using a mould made from a prototype of the piece to be worked, and this prototype is usually made from beeswax. This is covered with a thick layer of soft material, usually clay, which then solidifies. Once this has hardened it is put in a kiln where the wax inside melts and leaks out from expressly made holes in the clay. In its place molten metal is injected and this takes on the exact form of the mould. To remove the final piece the mould must be removed.


- BLEIBERG, E. Soulful Creatures: Animal Mummies in Ancient Egypt. Brooklyn Museum. 2013.
- MALEK, J. The Cat in Ancient Egypt. University of Pennsylvania Press. 1997.

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