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During the Egyptian Late Dynastic period, thousands of bronze female cat statuettes were commissioned as votive offerings to the goddess Bastet or Bast, especially in association with her role as the goddess of fecundity and childbirth. Many, as is the case of this sculpture, served as hollow-cast bronze coffins for cat mummies, although others were solid cast and of smaller scale. A cemetery for cat offerings was created in the Nile Delta at Bubastis (Per-Bast), the principal cult center of the goddess. Bubastis gained particular importance when its rulers became the kings of Egypt, forming the Twenty-second Dynasty, sometimes known as the Libyan Dynasty, and the rise of the importance of Bastet and the cat offering can be dated to this period. Visitors to Bubastis were able to pay for the mummification of an animal. In return, the visitor hoped to receive the favor of the goddess. A whole industry thus grew up around this and similar animal cults, with animal keepers, animal embalmers, priests tending to pilgrims, laborers building the cemeteries and burying the thousands of animals, and artists creating the votives.
The Dumbarton Oaks sculpture is a naturalistic rendering depicting the cat seated in an alert posture, its long tail curled around to its forepaws. Around its neck is depicted a large chain and pendant, probably meant to be the protective wedjat eye amulet found on other cat sculptures of this period. The holes in the ears and nostrils suggest the former presence of jewelry, probably gold rings, now lost. The insides of the ears are also inscribed with the Egyptian hieroglyph for “truth.”
"List of Accessions and Loans." Bulletin, Metropolitan Museum of Art 18. no. 7 (July 1923), 183.
Scott, Nora E. "The Cat of Bastet." Bulletin, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Summer 1958),1-2, ill.
Schorsch, Deborah, and James H. Frantz. "A Tale of Two Kitties." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (Winter 1997/1998), 18, ill. 6.
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 292f, ill.
"Animal Bronzes," Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, 2008.
Purchased from Demotte, Paris (dealer), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 1921;
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1921-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.