Statue of a Cat with her Kittens

A statue of a cat feeding one kitten and playing with another is shown lying on a sarcophagus designed to store the mummified remains of cats. Cats were commonly portrayed in Egyptian art, especially during the Saite period, which was characterized by numerous images of animals in general.

When represented, the cat-shaped statues was most probably supposed to bring fertility. These sculptures usually represent the feline in a crouching position, but in later periods it was often depicted with kittens between its front legs or in the act of sucking the mother’s milk.

Statue of a Cat with her Kittens
Statue of a Cat with her Kittens

Cats were devoted to the cult of Bastet, the goddess of fertility and protector of the home, and they usually had their ears pierced so that gold earrings could be worn. The goddess Bastet, who had a cat’s head, was one of the multiple deities in Egypt’s polytheist religion and had her own temple in Bubastis, in the Nile delta.

In ancient Egypt, cats were highly valued as pets but also acquired religious significance. Cats were also popular because they kept granaries and the home free of mice, rats and snakes. Cats were considered to be a manifestation of the goddess Bastet, but were not quite sacred themselves. Some tomb paintings show cats sitting by their owners, sometimes with food nearby. In parts of Egypt, cats were bred in large numbers, so that worshipers of Bastet could show their devotion to the goddess by paying for a cat’s ceremonial burial.

Late Period, 26th Dynasty, ca. 664-525 BC. Now in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon. Inv. 21