Bonhams sale of Antiquities in London on 13th April includes a beautiful but inscrutable Egyptian cat cast in bronze, with gold earrings, that dates from circa 664-32BC estimated to sell for £15,000 to £20,000.
This charming hollow cast bronze cat is shown alert, sitting upright with the tail curled to the right side, the body with stippled surface, wearing a Bes-headed pectoral suspended on a cord and original gold earrings. It has beautiful well-defined features with recessed eyes and incised whiskers. The feline comes from a private Swiss collection. Bought in New York in 1958. With copies of accompanying collection notes.
Such cats are images of the cat goddess Bastet and were often placed on the top of bronze boxes containing mummified cats.
Madeleine Perridge, Head of Antiquities at Bonhams comments: “This is a wonderfully striking cat with beautifully defined features, particularly the finely incised detail of the fur and the delightful original gold earrings. Considering that it is more than 2,000 years old, it is in excellent condition. In fact you could say that this cat for all its great age, has still not outlived its nine lives.”
Praised for controlling vermin which could be a threat to the harvest, Egyptian nobles of the New Kingdom period would also take cats on bird-hunting expeditions. By the Graeco-Roman period, cats as the personification of the goddess Bastet, were deemed to be sacred animals and it was forbidden to remove them from Egypt.
The cat goddess Bastet eventually replaced the cult of Mafdet, a lion-headed goddess. Bastet's image softened over time and she became the deity representing protection, fertility and motherhood.
As a revered animal important to Egyptian society and religion, cats like humans, were also mummified. Mummified cats were given as an offering to Bastet. In 1888, an Egyptian farmer uncovered a large tomb with mummified cats and kittens. This discovery outside the town of Beni Hasan had eighty thousand cat mummies, dating to 1000-2000 BCE.