Middle Kingdom Cat
This is a vessel in the shape of a cat that dates from early in the 12th Dynasty of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, 1990–1900 B.C. Made from Egyptian alabaster, the cat is sculpted beautifully and inlaid eyes of rock-crystal, lined with copper bring an eerie sense of realism to this piece.
Cats held a significant and revered role in ancient Egyptian society. They were highly regarded and considered sacred animals. They were kept as pets and were also seen as guardians against evil spirits and vermin.
The form of the cat is perfectly captured, just like the more famous Late Period Gayer Anderson Cat, yet this alabaster feline is over 1,300 years older.
Cats were associated with the goddess Bastet (also known as Bast), who was the goddess of home, fertility, and protection. Bastet was often depicted with the head of a lioness or as a domestic cat.
The cat first appears in painting and relief at the end of the Old Kingdom, and this cosmetic jar from the Middle Kingdom is the earliest-known three-dimensional representation of the animal in Egyptian art.
The sculptor demonstrates a keen understanding of the creature’s physical traits, giving the animal the alert, tense look of a hunter rather than the elegant aloofness seen in later representations. The rock-crystal eyes, lined with copper, enhance the impression of readiness.
Cats played a significant role in ancient Egyptian culture, symbolizing protection, fertility, and the divine connection between humans and the gods.
Dimensions: h. 14 (5 1/2 in.); l. 13.7 cm (5 3/8 in.); w. 6.2 cm (2 7/16 in.)
Read about Prince Thutmose and his beloved cat here.
Did the Persians use cats as weapons against the Egyptians? Watch here.